Sunday, November 26, 2017

Teachers & Students, Shepherd & Sheep


Solemnity of Christ the King
(SMS Alumni Association Mass)

Picture: cc Global Action Nepal

My dear sisters and brothers and children, do you consider yourself a good student? I know that it may have been quite a few years since some of us graduated from school. But even so, isn’t it true that, in a certain sense, we all continue to be students throughout our lives? So what does a good student look like? How would we find out? I’m not sure, but I think one way to find out is to consider what a good teacher does. Because a good student is someone who responds well to a good teacher. So what exactly does a good teacher do?

That’s not too difficult a question to answer, right? A good teacher teaches. By conducting lessons in the classroom, for example. By assigning work to be done at home. And also by giving students a good example to follow. So that a good student is someone who pays attention in class. Someone who diligently completes the assigned homework. And someone who follows the teacher’s good example. And that’s not all. For a good teacher doesn’t just teach, right? He or she also gives tests and examinations. So to be a good student is also to prepare to be tested. To prepare to be examined. To be judged in some way.

We know how to be a good student by considering what a good teacher does. If this is true, then perhaps the same can be said for being a good Christian. We learn to be a good Christian by considering what Christ does. But what does Christ do? This is the question that our readings help us to ponder on this Solemn Feast of Christ the King.

Both in the first reading and the psalm, we’re presented with the moving image of a good shepherd. Like a conscientious shepherd watching over his flock, so too does Christ the King care for his people. Care for us. For you and for me. Not only does he stand up in the middle of his scattered sheep, keeping all of us in view, but he also guides us to fresh and green pastures and streams of restful waters to revive our drooping spirits. He is careful even to ensure that each individual sheep is looked after according to its particular needs. The sick have their wounds tended. And the healthy receive the care they need to avoid falling ill.

If this is how Christ exercises his authority as king, then we become good Christians only by behaving like true members of his flock. Only to the extent that we are willing to hear and follow his voice as he leads us to the green pastures of the Bible, for example. To take time to read and pray over the scriptures. Allowing them to comfort and to challenge us. And to submit ourselves to the Lord’s healing hands, as he gently mends our broken hearts, and invites us to forgive those who may be responsible for breaking them.

But, as we may well know from experience, this is not always easy to do. For there are many other voices competing with the shepherd for my attention. Voices that claim to offer me true happiness. But when I allow myself to be seduced by them, I find that these voices lead me not to refreshing streams, but to stagnant pools of muddy water, unfit to drink. For example, I may spend much time and energy slaving away to build a future for myself. And pressuring my children to do the same. Only to discover that all the money I make and all the prestige I may gain cannot fill the gaping hole in my lonely heart.

I meet many different people everyday. I may even have thousands of friends on Facebook. And yet, I can’t seem to connect with just one human person in a truly meaningful and fulfilling way. I live with my family under the same roof. But I struggle to spend quality time with them. I fiddle daily with the newest most advanced gadgets. Devices that keep me plugged into the world 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. And yet, I still can’t escape the uncomfortable feeling of being somehow cut off and isolated. Not just from others. But even from my deeper self. Who am I, really? What is the meaning of my life? Why am I so restless and unhappy?

It is especially to those of us who may find ourselves in such distressing circumstances that our readings offer much needed consolation. If the world does not fulfil you, then come to Christ the Good Shepherd. Christ the merciful King. Listen to his voice. Become his sheep. Let him lead you to where you need to go. For, as the second reading tells us, just as all die in Adam, so all will be brought to life in Christ.

But that’s not all. For just as teachers don’t just teach, but also give tests and set examinations for their students, so too does the Good Shepherd judge his sheep. And what is the one thing that distinguishes the sheep that belong to Christ the Shepherd-King? How do they pass his test? According to the gospel parable the true sheep of the shepherd are those who follow his example. Those who behave not just as sheep, but also as shepherds as well. Those who make efforts to care for those most in need. And, by doing this, they actually end up caring for the Chief Shepherd himself. For I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink; I was a stranger and you made me welcome... In so far as you did this to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me.

The implication for us is clear. We become true sheep of the shepherd’s flock, true followers of Christ the King, only to the extent that we ourselves are willing to care for the least ones in our midst. Not just those whose stomachs need to be filled, but also those who may long for a listening ear and a reassuring touch. Not just those imprisoned by bars of steel, but also those trapped in emotional and spiritual cages. Bound by regrets of the past, addictions in the present, and anxieties for the future. Not just those afflicted by diseases of the body and of the mind, but also those who, like the Rohingya in Myanmar, the starving people of Yemen, the homeless poor here in Singapore, have fallen victim to the illnesses of society. To selfishness and greed. To anger and violence and apathy.

My dear friends, just as we know how to become a good student by considering what a good teacher does, we know how to be a good Christian by considering the actions of Christ our caring Shepherd and our merciful King.

What must we do to be better students and ever more faithful Christians today?

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