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 demanding and all-consuming, with little acknowledgment or recognition. In fact, many shepherds were looked down upon, and groveling at the bottom of the social class 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: “I am the good shepherd, and I know mine and mine know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I will lay down my life for the sheep” (Jn 10:14-15).
Jesus is not just a shepherd, but the good shepherd. A good shepherd lived among his sheep, watched over them, cared for them, helped to birth and raise them, as well as was willing to protect them with his life from predators and thieves. Though we may not be fond of being compared to sheep, Jesus does the same for us. He watches, cares for, protects, nourishes us with his own Body and Blood, and has given his life for us.
We can get in trouble when we stray from his protective care and wander away. Yet, just as a sheep baas and bleats, so the Good Shepherd is always close to hear when we call. Each one of us is precious and important to him. We just need to remember that truth and reach out to him daily. And no matter how far we may find ourselves astray, he will come to us and will carry us back home on his shoulders.
I invite you to spend some quiet time with Jesus the Good Shepherd today. With the humility and simplicity of a lamb, allow yourself to rest your head on his lap, surrender to him all your cares, doubts, anxieties, and fears. Allow your self to feel the comforting weight of his hand and so 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 this shepherd gave: his life for you that you might have life in him, a life not merely to exist or survive, but a life of joy and fulfillment.
One of my views from Mass Sunday, the Good Shepherd, who laid down his life for us.