Jesus uses a very familiar image today to illustrate the significance of following one’s vocation in life. He talks about a shepherd, which in an agrarian culture like his own, would have immediately made sense to his hearers. In a suburban place in the modern world, it loses some of its immediacy, but I still think Jesus’ illustration is a good one.
We know basically what a shepherd does, right? He cares for a flock of sheep. The shepherd has an important task: he must keep the flock healthy and safe, so that the flock’s owners will be able to get a good price for them at market. He has to find good grazing grounds so the sheep can be fed, must see that they stay together and get to market, and has to keep them safe from predators. Jesus makes a distinction between good and bad shepherds: those who actually care for the sheep as opposed to hired hands who don’t really care. When a predator comes along, the hired hand takes off, leaving the sheep in harm’s way. But not the good shepherd: that shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
Of course, Jesus illustrates this beautifully in his own life, and we’ve seen that in these Easter days. The sheep are God’s people, the danger is sin and death, the hired hands who didn’t really care about the sheep were the religious leaders of the time, and the Good Shepherd is Jesus, who laid down his life for God’s people in his crucifixion. That’s what good shepherds do: they give their lives for the flock.
So here’s the take-away: we are all called to be good shepherds. We all have a flock. For a priest, that flock is his parish. For a religious brother or sister, that flock is the community in which they live. For parents, it’s their families. You get the idea. But the important detail is that the task is the same: to save their flock from all danger of the foe. The foe remains sin and death, brought about by the predator who is the devil. The vocation of us shepherds is to get the sheep of our flock to heaven, which is a participation in the vocation of Jesus the Good Shepherd.
Which means we have to be true to our promises. For priests, that would be preaching the Gospel faithfully, not just telling people what they want to hear, but challenging them to grow in their relationship with Christ. For parents that means being faithful in their marriages and diligently bringing their children up in the practice of the faith, as they promised at their child’s baptism.
What’s important to know is this: all of our vocations work together. If we’re all faithful to our promises, God can do his work in us and through us. For example, when parents faithfully bring their children to Mass, and priests faithfully preach the Gospel, then children can grow up with a relationship with our Lord that will see them through whatever life throws at them, and can bring them one day to their goal of eternal life.
To all of this, there are many distractions, wolves that threaten to scatter and destroy the flock. But if we are good shepherds, then we can count on the guidance of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, to bless our efforts and lead us all to life.