Putting Human Life First:
When The Defense Of Life Is The Measure Of A Good Shepherd
Acts 4:8-12;1 Jn 3:1-2; Jn 10:11-18
The notoriety of the cattle-herdsmen in Nigeria has given a bad name to all the shepherds of Nigeria. The Nigerian experience is one that shows that the lives of animals, especially cattle, are of more worth than human beings. The fear of cattle-herdsmen has become the nightmare of rural and urban dwellers; their presence smells death. In this scenario, can anything good come from shepherds and shepherding? Of all identifications possible, why would Jesus compare himself to a shepherd?
If cattle-herdsmen specialized in killing human beings, instead of defending and protecting human lives, what is the difference between them and all those who spend a fortune on pets and leave behind scandalous amount of money in their wills for their animals, the so-called pets, while human beings around them die of starvation, and some human beings scavenge for daily food? Imagine the leftover from restaurants, malls, and nations that are dumped as waste and garbage, but the human beings that need them are denied of those necessities of life because there are laws forbidding human beings from having access to them. Direct or indirect killings, all amount to killing! So, what is shepherding?
Indeed, Jesus calls himself a shepherd, but “the good shepherd,” which means that neither the Fulani/cattle-herdsmen shepherding of cattle at the expense of human lives is at stake here nor the democratic and political killings by neglect or out of greed and quest for power qualify as shepherding. The definite article “the” in “the good shepherd” tells the story of a different kind of shepherding for Jesus. A shepherd with a difference from others known to Israel and the democratic world of today is what is at stake, when “the good shepherd” is evoked. The good shepherd which Jesus is, is borne out by what he did and continues to do. While cattle-herdsmen kill for their cattle and masters/employers, and democratic and totalitarian assassins eliminate political and business rivals, Jesus dies for his sheep. The bottom line is death: what are you ready to die for and NOT what are you ready to kill for. More so, while others shepherd animals, Jesus shepherds human beings.
The easiest thing to do today, and in the past, is to destroy. Human beings have manufactured destructive explosives and equipment, specifically to eliminate human lives, but not enough to save and protect lives. The human tongue destroys millions of human beings daily, but very few lips speak out kindness, love and words of consolation. Hardly is there anything created by God that human beings are not nudging towards destruction, including our common habitat, the earth. Yet, destruction takes seconds, but building up anything at all can take a life time in the making. The investments in order to build up is the ability to suffer. The ability to suffer for the sake of building up is the proof of goodness. Goodness is the presence of divinity, and wherever the Divine is present, there is life found and there is the good shepherd located.
Jesus shepherds human beings NOT animals, whether they be pets or not. Of course, Jesus doesn’t dislike animals, after all he created everything, including animals – “Jesus was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (Jn 1:2-5). By default, God protects every life, because he created life and protects it. If “light” shines and sustains living organisms in the world, so does God shepherd everything in creation by keeping it alive. To defend and protect and nurture human life from conception to death makes one a good shepherd like Jesus himself.
In today’s gospel, Jesus was categoric: “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). In these statements are contained the meaning of “shepherding” and the “goodness” that goes with it. Let’s break up the sentences:
A) I am the good shepherd
B) I know my sheep and my sheep knows me
B) Just as the Father knows me and I know the Father
A) I will lay down my life for the sheep
The categorical statement, “I am the good shepherd,” begins to make sense when one considers the relationship between the sheep and the shepherd. The relationship here is that of “knowledge” – “I know my sheep and my sheep knows me”. But what is knowledge in this context? Jesus gives us an inkling when he says, “as the Father knows me, and I know the Father”. One thing is clear here, the reciprocity of knowledge which exists between Jesus and his Father, is what Jesus replicates in his reciprocal knowledge with his disciples – “I know my sheep and my sheep know me”. Jesus “knows” his Father because he understands the inevitability of his dependence and unity with his Father. The life of Jesus is inextricably tied to that of his Father. In like manner, the life of every Christian is unbreakably tied to that of Jesus. The direct conclusion here is that Jesus dies to protect life because life is of God and every life depends on God.
The sheep that do not “know” Jesus are those who have become bad shepherds by turning themselves into killers of human lives, irrespective of the ways they do the killing. For people and shepherds like that, Jesus is ready to convert them by dying for them. This is what he says, “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. These also I must lead, and they will hear my voice, and there will be one flock, one shepherd. This is why the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own”. The death of Jesus is meant to teach humanity the value of human life and the fact that every life is worth defending with one’s own life. On account of Jesus’ readiness to die for his lost sheep – human beings – his Father loves him for doing that. The good shepherd dies in protection of his sheep, he doesn’t kill anyone. A bad shepherd kills his sheep or human beings because, as the gospel says, he doesn’t care about the sheep, he cares more about his salary and wage, because the sheep are not his!
Imagine the interrogation of Peter in the first reading today, why he had to heal a man. Doesn’t this show that there are sadists who only enjoy to see other human beings suffer and undergo inconveniences? In our first reading, instead of the religious leaders of Peter’s day to join in the celebration of life and healing, the instruments of healing are attacked. This sounds like the president of Nigeria who says that Nigerian youths are uneducated and lazy, while he sent his children to United Kingdom for studies on the backs of Nigerian tax-payers’ money, and he goes to the United Kingdom for medical treatments having destroyed Nigerian educational and medical systems. What example of a bad shepherd is worst than Buhari? How has he forgotten that what is good for goose is good for the gander?
Why would anyone want to kill another person? Here is why no one should kill, according to our second reading; rather, life should be protected even if it means dying in the process: “See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God. Yet so we are”. The value placed on every human life is the fact that we are children of God; therefore, every human life is sacred and sacrosanct. But why would anyone attempt killing a child of God, when he/she knows that life comes from God and that God defends every life? Every killing is a product of ignorance: “The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him”. The ignorance of God and the respect and protection to be accorded his children gives the audacity to kill and to be bad shepherds to those in leadership positions.
On a day like this, our heroes and heroines are those parents who sacrificed everything, including their lives, to provide a future free from poverty, diseases and illiteracy for their children. Parents who have donated body organs for the survival of their children. The many politicians who refuse to loot the public treasury, who fight for policies that protect lives from conception to natural death, those who stand up for justice and peace in the society, especially when that is risky and unconventional. The many good shepherds of our society include those journalists and news makers who cry-foul when bad laws and decisions are being made, who alert the general public to the presence of imminent danger lurking in policies and conspiracies. The many good shepherds our society continues to enjoy today are those positive moral figures and stalwarts of authentic Christianity, who get killed because they work and stand up to governments and individuals on the basis of Christian principles and morality. Those individuals who refuse to sell their consciences for money, power and influence. Are you one of those?
Assignment for the week:
Our assignment this week is in two parts:
1) take out some time to list out your red-lines on account of which you are ready to die, instead of compromise your belief.
2) Could you promote one of those virtues this week?
Updated from April 21, 2018