21 July 2009

Shepherds R Us

16th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: Jer 23:1-6; Ps 23:1-3, 3-4, 5, 6; Eph 2:13-18; Mk 6:30-34

The readings this Sunday are replete with references to shepherds. The Gospel says Jesus looked at the crowd and “his heart was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things” (Mt 6,34).

Aside from presenting Jesus as the good shepherd, the readings also point to our own calling as shepherds ourselves, leaders – or to use churchspeak, servant-leaders. As disciples of Jesus, we are also called to follow in his steps of shepherding and leading others.

Chris Lowney, in his book “Heroic Leadership”, says: “We’re all leaders, and we’re leading all the time, well or poorly.” If you are a parent, you are a shepherd. If you are a kuya or ate, you are a shepherd. If you are a teacher, a coach, a manager, a team leader, you are a shepherd. If you are a friend, you are a shepherd.

So, are we leading well or poorly? On this note, I would like to suggest that we, shepherds and leaders, ask ourselves these questions:
1. Why am I doing this? (What are my motivations, my dreams, my desires?)
2. How am I doing so far? (How do I sustain myself?)
3. To whom am I accountable? (Who am I serving?)

I. Why am I doing this? (What are my motivations, my dreams, my desires?)

To be formed as a good shepherd, we need to clarify, then afterward seek to purify, our motivations, intentions and dreams.

Here is a story… (I got this from Fr. Pio Estepa, SVD, from the “Word in other words”.) A church builder was looking for a new foreman, so he called three prospective candidates from among the workers. He asked each of them only one question: “What are you doing?” The first worker retorted: “I am mixing cement for putting blocks tightly together.” The second replied: “I’m earning wage to feed my family.” The third exclaimed: “I am building a cathedral!” Which one do you think did the builder choose? He chose the third one, the one with the heart for the job, the one who sees himself as a proud part of something greater than himself.

Do you have the heart for the job? Jer 3,15 says “I will give you shepherds after my own heart”. If we want to be shepherds, then our hearts should be formed according to the heart of the Good Shepherd. From here flows our vision and mission, our dreams and motivations.

II. How am I doing so far? (How do I sustain myself?)

In the Gospel, Jesus invites his disciples who had just arrived from doing God’s work to “come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while” (Mk 6,32).

Taking time off to rest and reflect, enables us to gather strength and connect with God. The Chinese has a proverb for it: “One step backward, two steps forward.” Retreats, recollections and (for those familiar with the Ignatian tradition of spirituality) the daily examen provide opportunities for moments of quiet and reflection. Our Sundays are meant to be moments like these.

There is also a practical benefit for moments of quiet, prayer and reflection: we learn and grow. We get to acquire and master the three important learning areas in order to sustain our dreams and motivations:
1. learning to break free from unhealthy attachments;
2. learning to stand firm by our non-negotiable principles; and
3. learning to explore new approaches and ideas.

Jer 3,15 not only says “I will give you shepherds after my own heart" but continues it with "who will shepherd you wisely and prudently”.

III. To whom am I accountable? (Who am I serving?)

The First Reading contains a lamentation, a “jeremiad” against wayward shepherds: “Woe to the shepherds who mislead and scatter the flock of my pasture, says the Lord” (Je23,1).

1 Peter 5,1-4 also says: “Tend the flock of God in your midst, (overseeing) not by force but willingly, as God would have it, not for shameful profit but eagerly. Do not lord it over those assigned to you, but be examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd is revealed, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.”

To understand better accountability, it is important to understand first the beginning and end (purpose) of Christian leadership…

Christian leadership begins as a sharing in the work of Christ. We are shepherds not on our own right or terms. We are accountable to the Chief Shepherd. We are servant-leaders of the Lord. And this is the will of our Chief Shepherd: to establish His Kingdom through the building-up of His community.

Christian leadership ends in the work of building-up persons and communities. Leadership guru, John Maxwell, in his book the “360ยบ Degree Leader”, narrates how he found out his father’s guiding principles in building-up people (and thereby becoming successful in his businesses). He recalls using his father’s desk one day, and discovering a card on which the following were handwritten:
1. Build people up by encouragement.
2. Give people credit by acknowledgment.
3. Give people recognition by gratitude.

Leadership is more than just achieving goals, it is more about building-up people.

To sum it all: We are all shepherds. Our shepherding is a sharing in the work of Christ, the Chief Shepherd. We are all called to build-up God’s kingdom by leading and building-up His community, each in our own way.

Are you now ready to embrace the call of Christian leadership?

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