Brothers and Sisters:
The Fourth Sunday of Easter is observed as Good Shepherd Sunday, primarily because the Gospel readings for this Sunday in the three years of the Lectionary cycle all come from the discourse about the Good Shepherd recorded in John’s gospel, chapter 10. In Year A we read John 10:1-10, in Year B John 10:11-16, and in Year C John 10:22-30. Although we are still in the Easter Season we have now moved away from the accounts of the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus which have occupied our attention on the first three Sundays of Easter, and now turn to events in the life and ministry of Jesus. What we need to bear in mind is that it is never the intention of the Liturgy simply to give us a history lesson about what took place in the past, but to provide us with lessons about how we should live in the present.
Today then, we are invited to learn from Jesus, what I would like to refer to as “Shepherd Leadership”.
It is fashionable today when we are thinking and speaking about leaders to turn the spotlight on our political leaders, our church leaders, our business leaders, generally speaking all the people whom we consider to wield power in the various areas of human endeavour. Call them for want of a better word the “big leaders”. There is no doubt that there is much to be learnt by all from the leadership exercised by Jesus, but I would like us at this time to limit our attention to the leadership within our own community of faith, and to think of all the “little leaders”. We have leaders in our Youth Fellowship, leaders in our Sunday School, leaders in our Fellowship Groups, leaders in our many organizations, so I ask the question, “Do you consider yourself to be a leader?” If so, then there is a message here for you.
Shepherd leadership is not about wielding power, but about offering oneself as a sacrifice. What defines Jesus as the Good Shepherd is his commitment to give his life for the sheep. Where such commitment does not exist, one can be considered to be no more than a hired hand. The demand of Jesus that his followers must take up the cross applies to the way we exercise our leadership. It is rooted in sacrifice, and we can hold nothing back.
Shepherd leadership is about building a grace-filled relationship. Jesus said, “I know my sheep, and my sheep know me.” Mutual understanding, mutual abiding, I know them, they listen to me and they follow me. The following is neither from fear, nor even from a sense of obligation, but from a bond of grace and love.
Shepherd leadership is never content at the alienation of anyone. It seeks the protection of all who belong, and reaches out to bring others who do not yet belong into the fold. Mission, therefore, lies at the heart of Shepherd leadership. We can understand then why the prayer for vocations to the sacred ministry is also a feature of Good Shepherd Sunday.
God give us grace to learn from Jesus how to lead.