Light in Shepherding: The Challenge of Mutual Knowledge Between the Sheep and Shepherds of Today

 I am the good shepherd; I know my own and my own know me, as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. (John 10,14-15)

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When I wasyoung, not yet in grade school, light for me would signal life – the rising and sleeping.

I grew up in a farm, in a hacienda. When I was a kid the only source of electricity was the power generator for the whole households in the neighborhood. There was even a man assigned to operate and to make sure that it was operational simply because it signals light and life to the people. It would operate from 4:30am until 5:30am signaling households to prepare for breakfast, to have some coffee. After which, people gather at the plaza where everyone would know their possible work for that day, and would again operate at 6 o’clock in the evening – when everyone was expected to be home, eating supper, watching television, studying, and be switch off at 9pm where everyone was expected to sleep by then. The light signals life. It signals human activity.

Let me start this reflection on John 10:14-15 using the image of light posted on Mark 4:21-22 – a lamp has to be placed on a lamp stand.

* With light, we see things clearly. When we light our lamp we will not only see ourselves but also we come to see clearly the things around us where the light of the lamp reaches.

We could not see the things, which are not beyond the light’s reach. Makikita lang natin ang mga bagay na naaabot nang ilaw.

Lighting our lamps means having the desire to see others clearly. Seeing the truth in them. Allowing ourselves to see them in different ways.

Before the end of January until the first week of February we had our peer evaluation. We placed our lamps on lamp stands. We looked at our BEC mates. We look at them mindful of their betterment. We lit our lamps aware of guiding them back on the way – with the help of the formation goals of the seminary. Benedict XVI, in his Lenten message last year, challenged us, “Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another.” Seeing others in the evaluation means encouraging them towards growth and wholeness.

The same is true with Jesus. He took our form – being emptied, in order not just to look at us, but also to be with us. It is God’s initiative, mindful only of our sakes. No wonder he told his disciple to place a lamp on a lamp stand. Perhaps, he wanted to tell us to also look and see others clearly apart from ourselves. As Teilhard de Chardin said, “The more one looks the more one sees. The more one sees the better one knows where to look.” With light, we see things clearly.

* With light, we are called to be witnesses, authentic witnesses. When we place our lamp on the lamp stand we also allow others to see us. Putting our lampon the lamp stand means allowing ourselves to be seen by others – to be vulnerable? Maybe. But more so… To be authentic. To be true.

Upon lighting our lamp and placing it on a lamp stand we let others see us first before we come to see them. In other words, placing our lamps on a lamp stand would mean allowing ourselves to be seen and allowing others to see us. This would mean transparency and accountability.

Any relationship starts from one disclosing himself/herself to the other and not by demanding others to disclose themselves first. I used to think of the latter. I thought entering into any relationship or friendship the other has to make the first move. Let her/him open herself/himself first before I open myself. I was a proud man. I thought being the first to initiate was only for the lowly or for the desperate ones. I used to believe that disclosing myself would make me vulnerable. Hindi naman pala. Kelangan pala ako ang unang tumaya. I have to allow myself to be seen by others before they come into the light. Kapag nakita nila ako sa maliwanag they will also come nearer to the light.

In the priesthood, what attracts people to the Church are those priests who allowed themselves to be moved by the message they preached – becoming living witnesses to what they proclaim. They don’t get attracted to those who preach blankly. We ought to remember that the lamp of truth is something to be held aloft and not concealed in the interests of a cowardly safety. People come out to the light because they see us living also in the light.

In the life of Jesus, people get attracted to him simply because he was living a life of example. He was a witness to his words – when he preached about compassion he showed it by being compassionate to a tax collector, to an adulterous woman, to a grieving mother, to mourning friends, among others. When he preached love he showed it – giving up his all – his life in total surrender to the Father. He walks what he talks.

Of course the invitation for us is not whether to hide the light or put it on a lamp stand. Nor to simply put our lamp on the lamp stand and that’s it. But rather, the invitation for us perhaps, is “after putting our lamps on the lamp stand what shall we do next? Are we going to hide ourselves from light and watch others pass by? Or remain in the light and walk with others and live in the light of truth? With light, we see things clearly. With light, we are called to be authentic witnesses.

* The Sheep knows the Shepherd because the Shepherd allowed himself to be known and seen when they pass through the gate. The Shepherd knows the Sheep because he sees them passing his way everyday when they enter and get out of the sheepfold. Not even counting being with them everyday as he pastors them.

Between them grows a relationship because they allowed themselves to be known by each other. Not only the Shepherd knows the flock but also (in some way) the flock knows him.

There will only be mutual knowledge when one takes the risk of being known by the other and eventually by being willing to also know the other. Jesus asthe Good Shepherd shows us how this mutual knowledge is possible. He even laid down his life for us. He protected us from the fangs of wolves and treacheries of thieves. He did this because of his love for us. Thus, knowing precedes loving. It is because of the knowledge of the Shepherd for the sheep that he even gave His life for them.

Perhaps, this shows us that when we become shepherds of our own flock (in the ministry), it is but necessary that we establish relationship with them. Relationship that is set by mutual knowledge between us and those we will minister. It is but important that we also allow them to see that indeed it is Christ himself that we’re preaching and we live it everyday so that our words would be credible enough for them to follow and heed our voice.

Jesus is the light that we carry in shepherding. He is the light we carry that we come to see our flock, and the same light that helps them see us clearly and thus follow our way.

            I am the good shepherd; I knowmy own and my own know me, as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. John 10, 14-15

JULIUS HABANA (san jose seminary)

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