How are we to understand the image of the Good Shepherd? In speaking or hearing the term we most certainly think of Jesus Christ: but why the image of a shepherd and a flock? We need to look back to our ancestors in faith; the Israelites; a group of people who traveled from one countryside to another, many of them tending sheep as a part of their everyday life. They fully understood the relationship between a shepherd and his sheep and indeed when the shepherd spoke, the sheep responded because they knew the voice of their caregiver. The shepherd was fully responsible for the sheep of his flock, he knew of each and counted them among his own and it was not unusual for the shepherd to put his own life at risk to save his sheep from predators who attempted to draw them away from the flock and in the end take their very life. The shepherd was gentle with his sheep, moving them along slowly, guiding them to a new hill rich with grass, that which would provide food for them to sustain life. And when a sheep would stray from the flock, the shepherd would search and then lift the lost one and with love and care bring them home to the flock.
How wise is our Lord! How appropriate the image of shepherd! The Lord is our Shepherd, we are his people. He guides us and leads us, moving us gently toward that which will sustain our lives. He nourishes us in the Eucharist with His own Body and Blood; that which will bring us to everlasting life. And when we are struggling or have fallen away, when we in a sense are lost, he gently lifts us in his loving arms and brings us home to Himself. Jesus, our Shepherd laid down his life for us. He died and rose again so that the predator, the evil one, might not consume us. We live because the Good Shepherd loved enough to lay down His life for us.
Who is it that we shepherd in our lives? Who are we willing to lay down our lives for? Good Shepherd, teach us!
Peace and joy in the Risen Lord,