John 10: 27-30
The image of Christ the Good Shepherd is truly endearing. In a certain sense it provides a level of comfort, protection and belonging. These are noble sentiments and this enduring picture of Christ can evoke on the surface much of these associations.
Yet, on a deeper level, when we listen to, reflect and meditate on Our Lord’s words in this portion of Scripture, there is a deeper level of understanding His identification of Himself, not as any shepherd, but as “the” Good Shepherd. When you hire someone to do the job of looking after a flock they are paid to do good. Yet with Jesus, “His goodness is His own nature and not some added extra gift.” (St. Gregory the Great).
Whereas an ordinary overseer of a flock would get to know the sheep by careful observation, the Good Shepherd knows His flock – Our Lord knows us inside out, He knows what we are made of, what our fears are, our hopes and deepest desires, our dreams. It is this intimate unity, the oneness with Jesus, which helps us understand the term “communion”.
It is this “communion” which the Church enjoys with the Good Shepherd. But many wolfs ceaselessly try to tear apart the flock or scare the unsuspecting sheep into a certain direction where a hidden trap is waiting, even dividing the family, and often, in our own society, trying, as wolves would do in the wild, to force mothers from their lambs, be they born or even in the womb. Wolves too, go after the sick and and elderly. Wolves in sheep's clothing can easily sing Catholic songs, sell Catholic merchandise and appear as angels of light!
A good shepherd knows this. This is why the shepherd's staff is not only to pull back one of the sheep, but like the young David, the shepherd might have a slingshot in his back pocket. He would use this, of course against the wolf, but also to clip the heel of wayward lamb!
If we are to be role models to others, whether we are pastors, teachers, parents or even grandparents, it is not enough to do the good. We have to be goodness itself. Goodness, by its own nature unmasks the wolf in sheep’s clothing, and secures the family through every hardship and danger.
Jesus tells us that He will lay down his life for His sheep. Our Lord does not compare himself to a hero, battling a wolf to the death. What would happen to the remaining flock, their defender having been slain?
In this season of Easter, we are asked to contemplate the Shepherd who alone can lay down his life in death in order to take it up again. In short, this is death and resurrection. A shepherd may get killed for defending the vulnerable. But the Good Shepherd willingly sacrifices His life in order to destroy the greatest predator of humanity – death itself. The Resurrection of Jesus from death gives us the assurance of the ultimate victory of humanity, but that is if we should, of course, wish to share in it.
The upcoming month of May is traditionally dedicated to our Blessed Mother Mary. One of Mary’s titles is “Our Lady of Trust” by which she shows us our proper attitude towards her Son, the Good Shepherd. We remember how the angel greeted her when he announced that she would become pregnant and give birth, “Do not be afraid”.
Mary points us to her Son the Good Shepherd, who in turn tells us “Do not be afraid”. Let us pray that, even in the midst of a world of conflict and division, we can still hear the voice of the Good Shepherd guiding us closer to His heart, which is goodness itself, protecting us under his loving and careful gaze.