“It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to put confidence in mortals. It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to put confidence in princes.’” (Psalm 118:8-9)
Christianity in our land today has become polluted by the influx of questionable characters claiming to be “men of God” whereas, they are nothing other than “men of the devil.” Due to the quest for economic prosperity and instant miracles, devil worshippers today hide under the guise of “church” to tap into the gullibility of the poor and suffering populace.
As though speaking of the Christians of our day and time, God said to Hosea “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge…” (Hosea 4:6). Indeed, it can be said that the Christian faith as practiced today may just be responsible for the multifaceted social, moral and economic crises in our society.
Before anyone can run a hospital (practice medicine, treat patients, perform surgeries etc.), he or she must have passed the requisite training and obtained a need a license from relevant authorities. The same goes for the Law profession, the teaching profession, the engineering profession, and so on. However, when it comes to Christianity, it appears to be a free-for-all situation. Wherever there are no regulations, there are bound to be abuses and these abuses tend to rob off on the genuine ones.
We have not only been very bad shepherds ourselves, we have also failed woefully to regulate the activities of these charlatans who open churches like the way people open beer parlours. Our silence and inaction at the excesses of these hirelings make us accomplices of their evils. I cannot blame anyone who has made up his or her mind not to have anything to do with Christianity anymore.
For many, Christianity has lost its taste and if we do not retrace our steps, we shall be trampled underfoot. The question is, where do we begin from? On this fourth Sunday of Easter, being Good Shepherd Sunday, our readings provide adequate answers to this question.
1. Stop Following “Man of God”, Start Following Jesus Christ.
Today’s Christians are like the people of Lystra. Paul and Barnabas went to their town to preach about Jesus Christ. Acts 14:8-15 reads: “In Lystra, there was a man sitting who could not use his feet and had never walked, for he had been crippled from birth. He listened to Paul as he was speaking. And Paul, looking at him intently and seeing that he had faith to be healed, said in a loud voice, ‘Stand upright on your feet.’ And the man sprang up and began to walk.”
Verse 11 reads: “When the crowds saw what Paul had done, they shouted in the Lycaonian language, ‘The gods have come down to us in human form!’ Barnabas, they called Zeus, and Paul they called Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. (These people considered Paul and Barnabas as gods just as today’s so-called Christians do. We scarcely believe in Jesus Christ but we flock around miracle workers and healers. We are so moved by their “powers” that we give them titles and nicknames. By our behaviour, we literally empower them and make them popular; we even wear their pictures on our necks as scapulars and we are ready to fight anyone who dares to speak of them as mere humans).
Verse 13 reads: “The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates; he and the crowds wanted to offer sacrifice. When the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, shouting, ‘Friends, why are you doing this? We are mortals just like you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them.”
Do you notice the reaction of Paul and Barnabas as they were being worshipped by the unbelievers? Now, can you compare it with our so-called powerful men of God today whose pictures parade their church signboards, who go on social media to announce and broadcast their greatness? The easiest way to know a true shepherd from a mere hireling is their level of humility; that is, their willingness to direct attention to God rather than to themselves. When the man of God begins to beat his chest and speak as though he is more powerful than Jesus Christ, please run for your lives.
Our Psalmist today says: “it is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man.” Children of God, it is better to worship God than to worship the man of God.
2. Run Away From Hirelings Who Cannot Sacrifice for their Sheep
In today’s Gospel passage, Jesus calls Himself the Good Shepherd and He immediately qualifies what He means by goodness. “The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” Jesus further clarifies that there are hirelings who pretend to be shepherds but as soon as they notice the wolf coming, they would flee, they do not care about the welfare of the sheep because they are simply hirelings; farm workers – the sheep do not belong to them, they are only being paid to look after the sheep.
To know if someone is a true shepherd or a mere hireling, you should ask: “what sacrifice is he or she making for my sake?” or “what sacrifice would he or she be willing to make for me?” On a good day, will my priest (pastor, evangelist, prophet etc.) be willing to lay down his life for my sake? Will he even pick up his phone when I am in trouble?
Hirelings are everywhere running churches today; their primary concern is their pocket, they even compete among themselves with luxurious mansions, cars, private jets, gold and silver, designer clothes, just name it. They brag like there is no tomorrow. They use convoys and employ military officers to guard them and give an air of superiority over their flock. It is all about their comfort, not your salvation.
3. Church is Not a Solution Centre; it is the House of Worship.
At the beginning of this reflection, I noted: “Due to the quest for economic prosperity and instant miracles, devil worshippers today hide under the guise of ‘church’ to tap into the gullibility of the poor and suffering populace.”
Who told us that it is by coming to church that we can make instant miraculous riches without having to work? Who told us that babies are created in the church or that life partners are found in the church? Who told us that it is when we come to church that we can get automatic job opportunities even without submitting our C.V or that we can pass examinations without having to read? Who told us that when we are sick, we should not go to the hospital or take drugs? Who told us that holy water or anointing oil can take the place of personal hygiene and common sense?
The truth is that these abuses we find today occur because men of God have found themselves under the pressure to perform. We pastors have told the people that we can do it all but the truth is that we cannot! God has given us powers to work miracles but God did not nullify the powers He gave to medical doctors to cure diseases and illness nor the powers He gave to farmers to plant and grow crops (this applies to all other professions).
St. John in today’s second reading tells us: “We are God’s children… the reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know Him…” Have you forgotten that you do not belong to this world? Do you see the damage that has been done to us with to the Gospel of prosperity; Christians today are so worldly-minded that it is now from the pulpit they learn about business and investing, it is from the pulpit they know about the richest people on earth. We hear principles of financial success and no one is talking about principles of avoiding laziness, lust, marital infidelity, stealing, lying, and so on.
Conclusion: Don’t Throw out the Baby with the Bath Water.
Our first reading today presents a classic scenario of how bad shepherds (hirelings) could become so intermingled with good shepherds that it may be very hard to distinguish between the both.
Peter and John had gone to the beautiful gate to pray and there they noticed a man who was cripple begging for alms. Peter felt in him power to cure this man because as a good shepherd Peter was truly concerned about the welfare of the cripple. This very action of Peter became the reason for the religious authorities to persecute him. In fact, it even landed Peter and John in prison. Later on, they were brought before the council, flogged and warned never to preach in the name of Christ again.
It is not the case that there are no good shepherds among our pastors. The truth is that the good ones are most persecuted and if you dare to be good, you are not going to have many friends. Our world does not like good people but never stop being good. Wherever you notice darkness, just shine your light. Go to Church to worship God, not the man of God.
Let us pray: Lord Jesus, my shepherd, work in me and through me to shepherd those under my care. Amen
Bible Study: Acts 4:8-12, Psalm 118, 1st John 3:1-2 and John 10:11-18