Tuesday, 24 July 2018 08:50

THE GOOD SHEPHERD

Homily delivered by Bishop Pablo Virgilio David, Diocese of Caloocan during Mass of the second day of the Fifth Philippine Conference on New Evangelization (PCNE5) at the Quadricentennial Pavilion, University of Santo Tomas, Espana, Manila on July 19, 2018.

I’d like to begin by confessing to you that I used to dislike these I AM passages in John’s Gospel. They make Jesus sound so “MAYABANG”. They make him sound like a braggart who indulges in self-adulation. As in: “I AM the LIGHT OF THE WORLD! I AM THE BREAD OF LIFE! I AM THE WAY, THE TRUTH AND THE LIFE, I AM THE RESURRECTION, I AM THE VINE and here: I AM THE GOOD GOOD SHEPHERD.” Can you imagine our humble Jesus talking this way?

Thank God for Bible scholars who remind us of what “I AM” means for the Jewish faith. It is what YAHWEH, their proper name for God, means: “I AM WHO AM”. The historical Jesus most likely did not speak this way. It is John who makes him talk this way—John who is fond of metaphors. John who is fond of double meanings. And it makes perfect sense, doesn’t it? Who is the Good Shepherd proclaimed by Psalm 23, who leads Israel like a flock in verdant pastures, who refreshes their souls, the Shepherd whose rod and his staff give them courage even when they walk in the valley of darkness? He is Yahweh, the Great I am. Who is the Good Shepherd who denounces the false Shepherds of Israel in Ezekiel 34, who says, “I myself will pasture my sheep; I myself will give them rest—the lost I will search out, the strays I will bring back, the injured I will bind up, and the sick I will heal...” It is Yahweh, the Great I AM!

Photo by Eric Paul Guanlao

When John makes Jesus say, “I am the Good Shepherd,” he is proclaiming to us that in Jesus Christ, we encounter the Great I AM, who is a Good Shepherd. He is unlike the hireling, he says, who runs away from danger because he is just working for pay. He is good, not only because he feeds the lambs, carries them in his bosom and leads the ewes with care. He is Good, because in him we find the Shepherd who allows himself to become the LAMB who is ready to lay down his life for his flock. (John is telling us: only the one who is ready to die like a Lamb can grow into a good Shepherd.)

Some of you may have read a reflection I posted on FB about a seminarian who asked me in an open forum, “Bishop, what advice can you give to seminarians who are losing heart and feeling discouraged about pursuing the priestly vocation because of the recent victims of killings in our country who were priests?”

I said, “If a priest is murdered because he defends human rights, like Fr. Tito Paez, or he speaks out for environmental protection like Fr Mark Ventura, or he protects victims of rape and defends the Catholic faith like Fr Richmond Nilo, and his death causes you discouragement instead of inspiration, then I advise you to forget about the priesthood and just leave the seminary as soon as you can.” The priesthood is not for cowards; it is not for the fainthearted. Jesus would probably say, “I beg your pardon, I never promised you a rose garden.”

And please, make no mistake about your vocabulary. Fr Paez, Fr Ventura and Fr Nilo were not “victims”. Victims are those who have no choice about their fate; it was merely imposed on them. No, these priests made a choice; they’ve opted to be “martyrs”, meaning witnesses. They chose this path, the road less traveled by. They responded freely to the invitation to choose the path of Jesus, knowing full well that it could cost their lives. This is what “martyrdom” is about. It is not about dying for a cause; it is about living out one’s faith, no matter if it could mean suffering and death. From the moment they chose the path of Christ, they already chose the path of suffering and death. So how can you call them victims?

Yesterday, Cardinal Chito Tagle explained to us that the temple priests of the Old Testament offered “victims” on the altar of sacrifice. These were handpicked animals slaughtered, burned and given up as offerings. Not so with the priesthood of Christ, the mediator of the new covenant. We are all called, by baptism, to be signs and instruments of the one priesthood of Christ, in whom the offerer and the offering, the priest and the victim are one. The priests in the image of Christ will not say, “I will offer a lamb for you”. Rather, they will say, “I will be the lamb, I’ll give up my life for you, because I am a friend of the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

Last night, as I was preparing for this homily, I was interrupted by a sad news from one of our parishes. One of the widows of the victims of EJK who are leading the support group for EJK victims in our diocese was killed by masked killers. The texter was telling me that the killers were still around that very moment that she was texting me. They were still looking up close if Jennifer was really dead already. Jennifer was one of the widows who applied for a scholarship for her son Prince JR a few months ago. I remember her clutching in her armpit the death certificate of her husband Ryan, who had also been killed by masked killers a year ago now. At that time she narrated how her husband’s body was mutilated by the killers. They gouged his eyes and cut off his private parts. I remember how I squirmed as she told the story and even whispered to remind her that her daughter was listening. Now her two little children, aged five and seven, are complete orphans...

The killers were not even rushing. They took their sweet time. They moved to another street, just a few blocks away and killed another one. Jennifer was from Barangay 152. After Jennifer, they moved down to Barangay 146 and killed 36 year old Alvin Teng. I feel so sad that I am unable to protect my flock from wolves. Today, in utter shame and frustration, I declare, “I have not been a good shepherd to my flock. The wolves have been prowling the streets and alleys of Caloocan, Malabon, and Navotas. They have killed hundreds already, and I am unable to protect them with my life. I will bow in shame if the Good Shepherd will denounce me as a mere hireling, who remains safe and secure, who can get a good sleep in his warm bed while his sheep are being slaughtered.” I was saying this to myself last night

But early this morning, I heard the Good Shepherd whispering to me in my prayer: “You are right, Ambo. You are not the the Good Shepherd. I AM. But you are in me, just as I am in you. You are not alone. It’s ok to say YOU ARE NOT THE GOOD SHEPHERD. I only entrusted the flock to you; pls continue to look after them. Do it for no other reason than for love of me. You do not have to substitute for me or to take my place. I only asked you to represent me. Speak to your flock and tell them to grow from lambs to fellow shepherds. Never shepherd my flock alone. Only by uniting yourself with your flock can you grow together into the Church, which is my body, the Body of the Shepherd. Only then can you truly say, I AM THE GOOD SHEPHERD.”

May I invite you then, brothers and sisters, to unite ourselves with Jesus and repeat after me: I AM THE GOOD SHEPHERD; I AM WILLING TO LAY DOWN MY LIFE FOR THE FLOCK. I AM THE GOOD SHEPHERD; I AM ALSO A LAMB, A FRIEND OF THE LAMB OF GOD WHO TAKES AWAY THE SINS OF THE WORLD. AMEN.

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