The Good Shepherd

Gospel John 10:11-18

In last Sunday’s reading we saw that Peter and John, after healing the cripple from birth at the beautiful gate of the temple, addressed the people. While the two were still speaking, the chief priest came to arrest them. The following day they were taken to court and were questioned – By what power and by whose name have you men done this? Peter’s answer to the authorities was – By the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified and God raised Him from the dead.

In concluding his speech, Peter says that Jesus is not offering only physical salvation. The healing of the cripple is only a sign of total salvation that He has in store for people. Like our Master, we have to take an interest in the needs, both physical and spiritual, of our brothers and sisters. We must also do all we can to free them from all kinds of oppression caused by unjust structures or unacceptable traditions. Only when people are able to see this total salvation, will they be led to believe that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.

One of the most favoured images of Christ in the early Church was that of the “Good Shepherd.” This image appears several times in the paintings found in the catacombs in Rome. Some of them date back to the late second and early third centuries. There are many depictions of the Good Shepherd in our churches and homes. Sometimes He is a tender figure holding a young lamb close to His breast.

In today’s Gospel, three times Jesus calls Himself the Good Shepherd and thus He tells us exactly who He is, because the most important thing the sheep need to know is who is taking care of them. Now we know who is taking care of us. Now, we know whose voice we have to listen to.

An old Chinese proverb tells the story of a fox that was captured by a tiger.  The fox tells the tiger – you can’t eat me because the gods have made me the leader of all the animals. The tiger did not believe him, but the fox told the tiger to follow and to see for himself if any animal challenged him. The tiger agreed and followed behind the fox as the fox began to walk through the forest. To the tiger’s amazement, it turned out to be exactly as the fox had said. Not a single animal they encountered challenged the fox. Every animal they met fled in sheer panic. After several such encounters the tiger finally agreed that the fox was the leader and let him go.

This proverb teaches us that it is easy to remove obstacles that oppose us when we have a tiger behind us. Figuratively speaking, we do not have to be afraid when we have a good and caring Shepherd who is ready to lay down His life for us.  “After He has brought out all His sheep, He walks ahead of them.” (John 10:4)

Many of us are not shepherds. Yet we have seen sheep and know that they are gentle animals, unable to defend themselves against ferocious animals. Unlike the other animals, the sheep follow the shepherd. You might have noticed that the shepherd goes in front of them, calls them and they follow.

The term shepherd implies an image of responsible leadership, devotion to duty, and concern for others. When the prophets of the Old Testament spoke of Yahweh as the true shepherd, they understood him as one who really cares for his people.

When Jesus said – I am the Good Shepherd, He meant that He does what a good shepherd does, namely;

  • The Good Shepherd knows his sheep. He knows the sheep by name, even if there are a hundred. Likewise, Jesus, as the Good Shepherd knows each of us by name.
  • The Good Shepherd leads His sheep. He leads them safe and secure in the church. He feeds us abundantly with His own body and blood. He forgives our misdeeds, and leads us to our eternal home.

Ordinary shepherds do love their sheep, feed them, protect them, but once they die the sheep will leave them. Not so with Jesus the Good Shepherd. Though He died for His sheep, He ever lives with them, defends them and feeds them with His own body and blood. There lies the uniqueness of Jesus, the Good Shepherd. He is the way, life and the resurrection of His sheep.

Are we faithful sheep?

If Jesus has done so much for us, it is appropriate to ask ourselves whether we are faithful sheep of the one true Shepherd, i.e. Jesus? We agree that Jesus is the Good Shepherd, He has done marvelous and amazing things for us, but what do we do for Him?

  • Do we follow Jesus, the Good Shepherd?
  • Do we accept Him, His word, and His deed in the Sacrament?
  • Do we come back to Him after we go astray?
  • Are we grateful for all the gifts He offers us?
  • Do we live like the good sheep of the Good Shepherd?

The image of the shepherd as Jesus presents Himself, indicates Jesus’ love and concern for us. Jesus suffered, died and rose again from the dead. Why? To make us sharers of the Father’s love. Can we truly and sincerely say that the Risen Lord is our Good Shepherd?

Jesus, like a Good Shepherd will gather the sheep (you and me) in His arms and will carry us close to His heart.

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