Monday of the 4th Week of Easter
Acts 11:1-18; Psalm 42; John 10:1-10
Acts 11:1-18; Psalm 42; John 10:1-10
The greatest test of a leader is how he or she reacts and leads the group when trouble hits or when things ‘go south’. A good leader prepares the group for such eventualities and ensures that everyone involved knows what to do in times of crisis. I remember a good leader who did this when I was at Outward Bound School in some years back as a secondary school student. Our instructor took pains to prepare us for our land expedition by ensuring that we knew how to navigate even in difficult terrain. That wasn’t quite enough as we made some bad navigational decisions and got lost. Our instructor kept quiet but continued to give us hints, never intervening. Even when we had to spend an unplanned night out in the jungles, he gave some quick instructions and made sure we rested. He calmly helped us back to camp the next morning, patiently explaining how things went wrong the day before. He was calm, collected and in control and we in turn learned much from him. He was a good leader who helped the lost.
Leaders and shepherds, that’s what the readings are talking about. Sheep are often portrayed as stupid but a quick fact check overturns that claim. They might seem stupid as they tend to flock together when threatened and can seem panicky but they are far from stupid. In fact, scientists have found that sheep are able to recognise particular sounds and shapes and respond to these. So there’s scientific proof of what the Lord says when he tells us that the sheep know the shepherd’s voice and follow it. A good shepherd would thus train the sheep to recognise his or her voice, playing to the strength of the sheep and minimising their weaknesses by giving them a pen or enclosure to be in when he or she is not around.
The image of the Lord as a shepherd is quite common but it’s often in the context of stupid sheep in need of constant direction. I don’t think we’re like that, more like sheep in need of training so that we don’t get into (too much) trouble when trouble comes. God created us as thinking beings but even thinking beings can be susceptible to herd mentality and lose sight of God. We’re like that when we forget God and flock towards selfishness and materialism that the world seems to condone. The Lord, however, is training us to listen to his voice, to remind us to follow his voice and not any bright light that might lead us from the safety of the sheepfold. We gain the ability to listen by hearing his voice often through the Word, sacraments and prayer. We’re given times like Easter to renew our faith in paschal joy.
The Lord in the Gospel uses the parable to remind us of the need to be prepared for what is to come. He’s the good leader preparing us for the hard times ahead. In particular, we as sheep need to be aware and discerning.
- We need to be aware of where the Lord is in relation to the distractions of the world. We need to be aware of how and where distractions come in by the side of our safe sheepfold and to realise that there are many ways in which our environment can bring us away from our goal of spreading the love and mercy of God. Just like our experience in the jungle, it’s easy to get distracted by false trails if we’re not aware of how we’re navigating.
- We also need to be discerning. Just hearing a voice is not enough – we need to be able to hear the Lord’s voice amidst the din and cacophony of all the other voices. If we’re able to ignore the clamour of the world and have confidence in the Lord, we should be fine. Some voices of the world can be very seductive but we need the faith to be able to discern and know which voice is the Lord’s. And to be aware that sometimes, the paths that the Lord leads us down are the difficult ones. Discernment is being able to choose the right path, not the easy one.
Peter faced similar difficulties as described in the 1st Reading. He was criticised for being lenient with the pagans and was doing things that an observant Jew should not. It was easy to be swayed by the more observant Jews as at this point, the Christians were not considered so yet and were seen to be Jews following ‘the way’ of Christ. But Peter stood his ground and explained how he was led to the pagans and how the Spirit of the Lord revealed their share in salvation to him. His faith enabled him to realise the importance of the visions and his training by the Lord, his interior knowledge of how the Lord thinks and works allowed him to be able to be aware of what was needed to be done. And he did it well.
I see the Lord as a leader who leads not stupid sheep but a bunch of people who are fully able to be aware and discerning. The Lord doesn’t just give instructions but actively develops us into better people. That’s what’s happening to us as we grow in our faith – we’re being led and developed into better people, aware and discerning, able to hear the Lord better through our encounters with the Word, sacraments and prayer. But are we allowing ourselves to get lost in the clamour of the world or are we allowing the Lord to call to us so that we can truly respond to him?