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True servant-shepherds

In the Gospel, our Lord explains that true servant-shepherds are those who must have undergone ‘both levels of conversion’

Reflection for the 4th Sunday of Easter (Cycle A)

In today’s readings, we are first given profound insights from the Apostle Peter concerning servanthood. 

From the account known to have been written by the evangelist Luke, we see him addressing a crowd in Jerusalem, “deeply troubled” about what they have said and done to the Christ “whom you crucified.” As if in replying to their disturbed consciences, “Each of you must repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, so that your sins may be forgiven. Then, you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise of God was made to you and your children, and to all those from afar, whom our God may call. … Save yourselves from this crooked generation.”

With this episcopal instruction, he is basically announcing to us a ‘foundational level of conversion’, in which those who have lived worldly existences, yet are now contrite for having treated the Spirit so disrespectfully, and are resolved to come back to him, will receive the ‘undeserving’ gift and promise of salvation.

From an epistle attributed to him, Peter next describes for us the glorious fate which awaits those who will persevere in following the mission and actions of the Christ, in spite of being treated so disrespectfully in an ‘undeserving’ manner by worldly people.  For the sake of his Holy Name, we are exhorted to strive to “do no wrong”; utter “no deceit”; not to “return insult, for insult”; and, when suffering, not to “curse, but put oneself in the hands of God.” He consoles us, “But if you endure punishment when you have done well, that is a grace before God. This is your calling: remember Christ, who suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you may follow in his way.” So, if and when we do respond appropriately to this “calling”, we will surely “come back to the Shepherd and Guardian of our souls.”

With this fraternal reassurance, Peter is also teaching us about a ‘higher level of conversion’, in which those who have already resolved to live in and for the Spirit, and are firmly committed to bear sacrifices and persecution from the world, for the love of God and in the service of others, will receive Grace himself.

In the Gospel, our Lord explains that true servant-shepherds are those who must have undergone ‘both levels of conversion’: They are first humbled at having disobeyed so loving a Spirit, and are subsequently motivated to return to him through the Christ, who is the “Gate”. In this sense, false servant-shepherds are those who persist in disobeying, refusing to “enter the sheepfold by the gate” yet insisting on “climbing in some other way”, and thus, can never be humbled.

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Consequently, the flock of a humble and true servant-shepherd will “know his voice”, and with trust and confidence, will be led through the same “Gate”: They will be nourished, become free, and joyfully have life. On the other hand, the flock of a proud and false servant-shepherd – caring only for himself yet pretending to care for them – will be deprived of whatever they already have, and tended to their terrible death, unless “they will run away from him, because they don’t recognize a stranger’s voice.”

Beware therefore of servant-shepherds who have not experienced conversion, who have not entered through our Lord, the “Gate”. He finally admonishes, “Truly, I say to you, I am the gate of the sheep. … Whoever enters through me will be saved; he will go in and out freely and find food. The thief comes to steal and kill and destroy, but I have come that they may have life, life in all its fullness.”

Brother Jess Matias is a professed brother of the Secular Franciscan Order. He serves as minister of the St. Pio of Pietrelcina Fraternity at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Mandaluyong City, coordinator of the Padre Pio Prayer Groups of the Capuchins in the Philippines and prison counselor and catechist for the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology.

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