The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II Fourth Sunday In Easter, Good Shepherd Sunday and World Day of Prayer for Vocations, 25 April 2021 Acts 4:8-12 ><)))"> 1 John 3:1-2 ><)))"> John 10:11-18
After listening to the Easter stories by John and Luke these past three weeks, we are now initiated into the implications of Christ’s Resurrection as the Father’s beloved children belonging to him led by Jesus our Good Shepherd.
Jesus said: "I am the good shepherd, and I know mine and mine know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I will lay down my life for the sheep." (John 10:14-15)
Image of shepherd pasturing the weak
Since Easter we have been reflecting on Jesus as our Lord and Savior who comes as our invisible guest in almost every aspect of our lives especially in the Holy Eucharist where he appears, speaks and shares meal with us despite the lockdowns due to COVID-19 pandemic.
In our country where the sheep is only beginning to be known as an excellent food, better than pork and beef especially Abes’s lamb adobo, the image of the shepherd is hardly known, even irrelevant for many especially for those in urban areas.
But, it is important that we try to bridge this gap even a little to appreciate and understand Jesus Christ’s words this Sunday being the Good Shepherd.
One very important aspect we have to keep in mind with the imagery of a shepherd in the Near East region where Israel is located is its symbolism of the relationship between the king and his subjects. Pasturing sheep was clearly an image of the task of every king in the region in ancient times not only in Israel but even in the pagan kingdoms of Babylonia, Assyria, and Sumer. This is the reason we find books in the Old Testament teeming with many references to God as the true king and shepherd of Israel, taking care of the people, leading them in green pastures and clear waters.
When the kings including the priests of Israel abused their roles, forgetting their mission to pasture especially the weak and the poor as they turned to pagan gods like Baal, God became so angry with them that he vowed to come himself to shepherd his flock fulfilled in the coming of Jesus Christ.
This decadence of the image of the shepherd continued in the time of Christ when shepherds were looked down and typecast as thieves and trouble-makers who belonged to the lowest level of the poor who could not even afford to attend temple worship due to their poverty.
Here we find the stage perfectly set for Jesus to restore and fulfill this degeneration of the beautiful and noble image of the shepherd while teaching after his healing of the man born blind that created a very big stir among peoples and temple authorities at that time in Jerusalem.
Knowing and belonging are interrelated: one knows because he/she owns like when we claim things as ours. When we possess, we know because we have. But, Jesus is speaking here not of owning and taking control an object or any material thing. Jesus and the Father know each other as they belong to each other as one in a perfect relationship but never because they "own" nor "possess" one another.
Knowing God, belonging to God
When Jesus declared “I am the good shepherd”, notice that he goes beyond simile: he did not say “I am like a good shepherd” but declares emphatically, repeating thrice the words “I am the good shepherd” – twice in verse 11, and again in verse 14.
His knowledge of the sheep is not from casual nor in-depth observations and study of the sheep but from a totally different and transcendent order when he declared, “I know mine and mine know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father”.
Here, Jesus is clearly re-establishing our lost relationship with God as our Father and we his children that is emphasized in our second reading, “Beloved: See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God. Yet so we are” (1Jn.3:1).
Unlike the monarchs of the world, Christ our King is the Good Shepherd because his relationship with us is based on love and concern especially for the weak and the lowly as the Father had intended since the beginning! Jesus is the good shepherd because his is a relationship of unity in God as our Father.
Knowing implies relationship because it connotes belonging.
Knowing and belonging are interrelated: one knows because he/she owns like when we claim things as ours. When we possess, we know because we have. But, Jesus is speaking here not of owning and taking control an object or any material thing. Jesus and the Father knows each other as they belong to each other as one in a perfect relationship but never because they “own” nor “possess” one another.
To illustrate, we belong to our parents, we belong to a church or a community, we belong to an organization. There is always a degree of knowledge in every belonging not because we are possessed or owned in the same way we own our house, our car, or any gadget for that matter. Owning, possessing or having persons and even pets are of higher degree of knowing and belonging, of something deeper about invisible links that tie us with someone we believe “belongs” to us.
Is it not funny that sometimes we claim how our possessions also seem to be like persons that try to get to know whoever is using it as in “nangingilala” wherein if somebody borrows our car or any thing, sometimes they do not function well? And we say, maybe because the car or the thing did not know who’s driving or using it!
Pope Francis last year mentioned a very beautiful trait of St. Joseph that speaks so well about this very positive kind of “possession”, of knowing and belonging like his relationship with Jesus Christ and Mary. The Pope described it as St. Joseph’s being “a father in the shadows”.
In his relationship to Jesus, Joseph was the earthly shadow of the heavenly Father: he watched over him and protected him, never leaving him to go his own way… Being a father entails introducing children to life and reality. Not holding them back, being overprotective or possessive, but rather making them capable of deciding for themselves, enjoying freedom and exploring new possibilities. Perhaps for this reason, Joseph is traditionally called a “most chaste” father. That title is not simply a sign of affection, but the summation of an attitude that is the opposite of possessiveness. Chastity is freedom from possessiveness in every sphere of one’s life. Only when love is chaste, is it truly love. A possessive love ultimately becomes dangerous: it imprisons, constricts and makes for misery. God himself loved humanity with a chaste love; he left us free even to go astray and set ourselves against him. The logic of love is always the logic of freedom, and Joseph knew how to love with extraordinary freedom. He never made himself the centre of things. He did not think of himself, but focused instead on the lives of Mary and Jesus.Pope Francis, “Patris Corde” (08 December 2020), #7
What a beautiful way of describing this sense of knowing and belonging – like St. Joseph and very much like Jesus our Good Shepherd!
See that Jesus never forces us into being one with him nor in following him. He simply calls us, inviting us to follow him, to be one with him. That is why we heard him also telling us today that he has “other sheep that do not belong to this fold” that he must lead and care too.
Jesus is the shadow of the Father who leads us back to him as his beloved children. He does not coerce us nor demands us even though he “owns” us as his sheep. In his Passion, Death, and Resurrection, Jesus had shown us how he had become the foundation, the cornerstone we have always rejected in many instances in our lives now pasturing us back to greener pastures.
To know and to belong in the light of Jesus as the Good Shepherd is for us to regard one another as a family, as a brother and a sister we love and trust, allowing them to be free and faithful to God and one another instead of manipulating people like what some parents do to their children or dictators in the government and military.
Knowing and belonging like the Good Shepherd is less of controls and more of trust with one another because you see them as brothers and sisters in Christ perfectly expressed in the Community Pantry dictum, "magbigay ayon sa kakayahan, kumuha batay sa pangangailangan" (give whatever you can, take only what you need).
Knowing and belonging like the Good Shepherd is less of controls and more of trust with one another because you see them as brothers and sisters in Christ perfectly expressed in the Community Pantry dictum, “magbigay ayon sa kakayahan, kumuha batay sa pangangailangan” (give whatever you can, take only what you need).
What Ms. Ana Patricia Non and her followers did was become like Jesus the Good Shepherd when she said this community pantry is “not about charity but more of mutuality like helping the needy” which is about seeing each other as a brother and a sister belonging to one family under God our Father. Charity happens where there is first a relationship of persons respecting one another.
No wonder, she had perfectly called her effort as “community pantry” because every home has a pantry where everyone goes when hungry. And what is more, her community pantry has become a steady source of kindness and tenderness we have missed so much during this pandemic!
How beautiful that a shepherdess from Maginhawa Street led us to realize that we are one big family – brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ and beloved children of the loving and merciful Father in heaven.
May this be the start of a beautiful journey for our country when we see more our belonging to one nation, one country we collectively “own” and therefore, we must ensure its bright future by seeing each other in the light of Christ our Good Shepherd – not us possessions to be manipulated or even sold for personal interests alone.
Have a blessed week ahead!