I am not sure how many people reading this reflection are shepherds, live on a farm, or raise sheep. Many of us are most likely removed from the daily life and commitment of a shepherd. With such ignorance as our starting point, we can fall prey to a false romanticism of the life of a shepherd as a reaction to the fast pace and hustle and bustle of modern urban and suburban life.
The commitment and demands of shepherds during Jesus’ time were all consuming, with little acknowledgment or recognition. In fact, many shepherds were looked down upon, considered the lowest of the low, at the bottom of the society of ancient Palestine. Yet Jesus compared himself to being a shepherd.
Just scratching the surface of the social context of shepherds could help to shed light on John’s Gospel today where Jesus paints an image of himself as the Good Shepherd as he says. “My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me” (Jn 10:27).
A good shepherd lived among his sheep, watched over them, cared for them, helped to birth and raise them. He would smell like his sheep. The lamb would hear the voice of the shepherd in the womb, in the first days after its birth, and on through its life. A good shepherd protected his flock with his life from predators and thieves. If there was danger, he would call the sheep to himself. Though we may not be fond of being compared to sheep, Jesus does the same for us. He watches and cares for us, protects, nourishes us with his own Body and Blood, and has given his life for us. Jesus guides us, if we are willing to hear his voice in the silence of our hearts.
We get in trouble when we stray from his protective care and wander away. Yet, Jesus will come when we are in need, baying for help. Each one of us are precious and important to him. He will find us if we are willing to be found, if we just call out to him, for he knows our voice too. He will come to us and will carry us back home on his shoulders.
With the humility and simplicity of a lamb, allow yourself to be still today, rest your head on the lap of the Good Shepherd, surrender to him all your cares, doubts, anxieties and fears. Allow your self to be healed by confessing any sins that are weighing you down, let him impart some healing balm on past hurts left unforgiven, and let him bind up any recent wounds. At some point in your contemplation, also let soak in the ultimate gift the gift Jesus has given us: his very life, that we might have life in him, a life not merely to exist or survive, but a life of joy and fulfillment.
Listen for the voice of Jesus calling us to himself today, to receive, rest in, and renew in the Shepherd’s love. This is the Lord’s Day, the day he rose again, conquering death for ever and always for himself and for us, the sheep of his flock.
Charcoal print, “The Good Shepherd” – Prints by Shawn, Shawn Costello