John 10:11-18, Fourth Sunday of Easter
Have you ever been to our novitiate in Novaliches? We have a small flock of sheep over there. They’re let out in the morning then herded back into the pen after lunch. Sacred Heart Novitiate doubles up as a retreat facility, so you can imagine how a small flock of grazing sheep could be quite the inspiration for prayer and meditation. A few years ago, there was one sheep there that had only three normal legs. One front leg was short and unusable. Not sure if he was born that way or got into an accident. But my brothers christened him with the name, Putol. Putol stuck out like a sore thumb, of course. He walked funny and with difficulty, ans you would really feel sorry for him if you saw him. See, it’s inspiring enough to see a flock of sheep grazing on prayer grounds. But it was even more inspiring to see a sheep like Putol hobbling along, trying his best to keep up with the rest. Putol appeared in many a retreatant’s contemplations, made it into their diaries, came up in their sharing. There’s even a painting of him in one of the dining rooms. Then Putol died. I’m not sure if he ended up as ulam. I hope not. For how could have the heart to you eat your inspiration for supper!? “Alas, poor Putol, I knew him.” But Putol’s absence from the flock was felt by many. Returning retreatants looked for him and missed him. So, one Jesuit there joked, “Pili kaya tayo ng isa tapos putulan natin ng paa? Para may inspiration uli ang mga retreatants!”
We all loved Putol for the most obvious reason: we saw ourselves in him—sheep with a broken leg, limping along, vulnerable, hurt, recovering from hurt, trying our best to keep up despite the circumstances, and totally, totally dependent on kindness. We saw Putol and realized that like him, we probably didn’t belong to God’s flock because we all hobbled in our sin, we all kept something we’re ashamed of; we but stagger to catch up with the flock, hoping that the Shepherd wouldn’t feed us to the wolves.
But there’s another thing Putol reminds me of, and it’s quite the opposite, the other side. It’s this particular tendency of ours as a church-going, God-fearing, Roman-Catholic flock. Sometimes, we give a little too much importance to our homogeneity, our common religion, our shared persuasions, our collective righteousness—such that sometimes, we don’t notice how intolerant we’ve become, how unforgiving of the Putols, i.e., whatever or whomever does not live and think and talk or love exactly like we do in our flock; the “irregulars,” the “outliers,” the “anomalies,” the “disordered.” Then, I read the Gospel today and realize, it does not talk about who the real flock is and who is not. It does not talk about who qualifies to be official sheep andwho does not. Rather, today’s Gospel is about who the real shepherd is, & who is not; who the good shepherd is, and who’s merely a self-serving, self-protecting, profiteering poser and sheep bandit.
“I am the good shepherd,” Jesus said in no uncertain terms. “I know my sheep. I will lay my life down for them.” For some reason, maybe I’m crazy and hear voices in my head, I seem to hear him say, “I am the good shepherd, not you. I know my sheep, you don’t. They will hear my voice, not yours. I will lay my life down for them, even if you won’t.” We often forget that back in his day, Jesus brazenly went out precisely to the irregulars, the outliers, the anomalous. And he tried to gather them, to bring them around, and let them into the sheepfold; the Putols of his society, the very people that officialdom declared were no members of the flock, would never be members, and should never be so. Yet, the Putols were the ones who inspired Jesus quite deeply. They stuck out like sore thumbs in the wide pasture that the Good Shepherd’s heart was. Oh no. This Jesus of Nazareth was polluting the official homogeneity. No, we are the official flock, the qualified sheep. Never mind the Putols. Let them find their own shepherd. We are fine the way we are with each other in this authorized sheepfold. Yet, Jesus says, “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. These also I must lead. And they will hear my voice….” The Good Shepherd knows what he’s talking about. He is after all, “the stone rejected by the builders.”
My prayer for all of us today is something like this—may we always remember that we are the Lord’s sheep not because of our own goodness, but because of the goodness and kindness of our Shepherd, a goodness and kindness that extends far beyond ours. And when we’re tempted to band together and lock the sheepfold from the irregulars, the outliers, the anomalies, may we ever remember that we are and will always be Putols ourselves. And while we are in God’s loving sheepfold, we do not own it. We are here together not because we deserved it, but because we were let in, kept in, and loved far beyond our limps.