Today’s gospel is the well known passage of Jesus as the Good Shepherd. It
is a wonderful passage and one that strikes chords with many people. One of
the problems with this though is that it is very easy to sentimentalise the
metaphor. When we read this passage, the image of a cuddly, fluffy lamb
being held in arms or draped over the shepherd’s shoulders brings about a
very warm and fuzzy feeling. Nothing is further from the truth.
In Jesus Day, the shepherds were an outcast section of society. They smelt,
they were unable to attend synagogue so people looked down on them. (This is
one reason why the appearance of the angels to the shepherds at Jesus’ birth
is so powerful). Their life was also very harsh, living on the edge of the
desert with all that entailed with needing to find water and feed,
protecting the sheep from wild animals and perhaps being away from home for
long periods. The role of the shepherd was and still is very important.
Shepherd also refers to the leaders of Israel. The kings were seen to be
shepherds of Israel. This was carried over to the religious leaders as well.
The prophets spoke of how Israel’s leaders had been false shepherds. New
Testament writers also spoke of case shepherds leading churches astray.
Jesus tells us that he is the good shepherd. So much so that he is willing
to lay down his life for his sheep. We are his sheep if we listen and look
to him. His sheep know his voice. His sheep follow him. This speaks of an
intimacy between Jesus and us, an intimacy that is reflected in the
relationship Jesus has with his Father.
This intimacy is essential if we are to be followers of Jesus, especially
for those who lead. There are so many things that can take us away from
Jesus today; the various views within society, our own ideas, our
experiences. What is hard about this “warm and fuzzy” image is that as
followers we need to constantly hold up our actions, attitudes and values up
to those of Jesus. When these run counter to ours or to those Round us we
find it hard. Yet as the Good Shepherd, Jesus guides us into green pastures
and still waters.