REFLECTION/HOMILY FOR THE FOURTH SUNDAY OF EASTER, YEAR B (GOOD SHEPHERD/VOCATION SUNDAY)

GOOD PASTORS OR HIRED PASTORS?
(Καλοί Ποιμένες ἢ Μισθωτοὶ Ποιμένες;)

First Reading: Acts 4:8-12
Responsorial Psalm: Ps. 117(118):1,8-9,21-23,26,28-29
Second reading: 1 John 3:1-2
Gospel Reading: John 10:11-18
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During ancient times, especially in the Near East and Mediterranean regions, pastoral imagery and terminology were commonly used to describe leadership roles within society, including religious leadership. In the biblical context, the term “pastor” or “shepherd” (Greek: ποιμήν, poimēn) was initially associated with positive attributes, particularly in the Old Testament, where God is often depicted as the shepherd of His people (e.g., Psalm 23:1; Isaiah 40:11). However, as societal structures evolved, and religious leadership became institutionalized, the concept of pastoral leadership underwent changes, and not all leaders bearing the title of “pastor” lived up to its noble connotations, to the extent that the word “pastor” became corrupted and scandalous enough to be associated with, just as the term “politician” is negatively perceived today. Thus, you can imagine how scandalous it was to the audience of the first-century Jews at the time of Christ to hear him associate himself with the title of “Shepherd.” However, because a good word has been corrupted by men, didn’t make Christ ashamed to associate himself with it. So, to distinguish himself from the corrupt pastors (religious leaders) of his time and to uphold the true and initial meaning of “shepherd,” Christ utilized the adjective “good” to qualify his kind of shepherding, saying: “Ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ ποιμὴν ὁ καλὸς” (Ego eimi ho poimēn ho kalos) – “I am the good shepherd.” At the same time, he referred to the false religious leaders as “hirelings” who in the true sense of the word were not really shepherds, as reflected in this Sunday’s gospel reading (cf. John 10:11-18). Beloved friends in Christ, today the fourth Sunday of Easter, the Church celebrates Christ, the good Shepherd, and by extension, all those who have received the task of shepherding the people of God entrusted to them. It is, therefore, imperative that we evaluate ourselves with the words of Christ today and ask if we are either “good shepherds” or “hirelings.”

To begin with, it is pertinent to understand the context in which these words were used. The term “Μισθωτὸς” (misthōtos), which means “hireling” or “hired servant” or a “hired worker,” appears six times in the Gospels (particularly twice in the Gospel of John). It refers to someone who is employed for wages rather than having a personal investment in the task or responsibility, is motivated primarily by financial gain, and lacks genuine care and commitment towards the job. Apparently, we know how dangerous it is to leave a business in the hands of a hired servant due to the limited accountability for their actions and decisions. Unlike owners or managers, who bear ultimate responsibility for the outcomes of their choices, hired workers may not feel as accountable for their performance or the consequences of their actions. This can lead to a lack of diligence, responsibility, and integrity in carrying out their duties. Without a sense of ownership or commitment, they may not prioritize the long-term growth and sustainability of the business.

In the context of shepherding, having a “hired pastor” or one who wasn’t genuinely called for the ministry equally fits into the concept of “hireling.” His lack of genuine care and commitment to the people of God is evident as he prioritizes self-preservation over their safety and protection. The result is what we see today: fraudulent behaviours by some pastors, milking their Church members in the name of compulsory tithes, seed-sowing, fake prophecies, arranged (false) miracles, misinterpretation of biblical texts to suit their ideologies, and lots more. Just as the hired man lacks genuine concern for the sheep and abandons them at the first sign of trouble, so too do false pastors neglect their pastoral responsibilities and fail to provide proper care and guidance to the faithful entrusted to their care. This highlights the dire consequences of inadequate or false spiritual leadership. When the shepherd fails to fulfil his role effectively, the flock becomes vulnerable to attack and scattering. The spiritual health and unity of the community are threatened, and individuals may become lost or disillusioned without proper guidance and support.

In contrast to the foregoing, Peter’s bold proclamation in this Sunday’s First reading (cf. Acts 4:8-12) exemplifies the role of a faithful and good shepherd who fearlessly proclaims the name of Jesus as the only means of salvation. Just as Jesus is depicted as the cornerstone upon which the Church is built in Acts 4:11, so too is He the foundation of genuine pastoral care and leadership within the Christian community. True shepherds, inspired by the Holy Spirit, build their ministry upon the rock-solid foundation of Jesus Christ, guiding the flock to Him as the source of truth, grace, and salvation. Also, good Shepherds, like Christ Himself, prioritize the spiritual well-being and safety of the flock above personal gain or self-interest, as opposed to “hired shepherds.” Good Pastors exhibit qualities of selflessness, sacrificial love, and total dedication to nurturing and protecting those under their care.

Dear friends in Christ, just as Jesus, the Good Shepherd, demonstrates selfless love and sacrificial care for His flock, so too are we called through the Second reading (cf. 1 Jn. 3:1-2) to emulate His example as children of God. Our identity as beloved children of God should inform and shape our approach to pastoral care and leadership, inspiring us to lead with humility, compassion, and genuine concern for the spiritual well-being of others. Moreover, in light of our identity as children of God, 1 John 3:2 reminds us of the glorious future that awaits us as we are transformed into the likeness of Christ. As we strive to emulate the character of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, in our pastoral care and leadership, we can take comfort in the assurance that we are being conformed to His image day by day. This should shape the way we interact with others, the decisions we make, and the priorities we set. As children of God, let us lead with love, humility, and boldness, knowing that we are called to be faithful stewards of the Gospel and ambassadors of Christ’s kingdom.

As we journey through the complexities of modern-day ministry, it is imperative that we remain steadfast in our commitment to serving God’s people with humility, compassion, and integrity. The juxtaposition of the good shepherd and the hired man challenges us to consider the motivations behind our pastoral ministry. Are we driven by a genuine love for God and His people, or are we merely fulfilling a duty for personal gain? The answer to this question shapes not only our interactions with others but also the spiritual health and unity of the community. As we reflect on the words of Christ and the examples outlined in Scripture, let us strive to be good pastors who prioritize the spiritual well-being and safety of the flock above all else. May we emulate the selfless love and sacrificial care demonstrated by Jesus, the cornerstone of our faith, and lead with humility, compassion, and solid resolve to nurture and protect those under our care.

As we embark on this journey of faith and service, let us fervently pray for all those who have embraced vocations within the Church. May the Holy Spirit strengthen and sustain them in their respective roles, granting them wisdom, courage, and discernment as they shepherd God’s people. We particularly offer our prayers, especially for the Holy Father, the Pope, as the Chief Shepherd of the whole flock, that he may always be guided by the Holy Spirit in leading the Church with wisdom and compassion. We also commit other pastors—the Cardinals, Bishops, Parish Priests, Chaplains, Priests-in-Charge, and all others in positions of religious leadership—to their various responsibilities as pastors, so that they may faithfully fulfil their duties with humility, integrity, and steadfast commitment to the Gospel. May God bless and protect all those who labour in His vineyard, and may He grant them the grace to be true shepherds after His own heart. Amen.

Shalom!
© Fr. Chinaka Justin Mbaeri, OSJ
Seminário Padre Pedro Magnone, São Paulo, Brazil
nozickcjoe@gmail.com / fadacjay@gmail.com

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Chinaka Justin Mbaeri

A staunch Roman Catholic and an Apologist of the Christian faith. More about him here.

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Ademaria
Ademaria
1 month ago

Amen! Well-done dear Father.

Ufy
Ufy
1 month ago

Amen.

Phyllis Joseph Nweke
Phyllis Joseph Nweke
1 month ago

May the Holy Spirit strengthen and sustain you and your fellow Priests in your respective roles, granting you wisdom, courage, and discernment as you shepherd God’s people, Amen!
May God hear our prayer..

Michael Umande
Michael Umande
1 month ago

May we live up to our responsibility as good Shepherds of Christ. Amen

Phyllis Joseph Nweke
Phyllis Joseph Nweke
1 month ago

May the Holy Spirit strengthen and sustain you Fr, and your fellow Priests in your respective roles, granting you wisdom, courage, and discernment as you shepherd God’s people, Amen!
May God hear our prayer..

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