Jesus the Good Shepherd
Jesus said: “I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. A hired man, who is not a shepherd and whose sheep are not his own, sees a wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away, and the wolf catches and scatters them. This is because he works for pay and has no concern for the sheep. 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. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. These also I must lead, and they will hear my voice, and there will be one flock, one shepherd. This is why the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own. I have power to lay it down, and power to take it up again. This command I have received from my Father.”
I hope I am not alone in thinking that when our liturgy of the word gives us an opportunity to meditate on imagery for multiple days it is for an important purpose. In today’s Gospel we continue the meditation on Jesus the Good Shepherd. Yesterday, we heard Jesus’ explanation the He is both gate and shepherd for the flock. The flock know and recognize His voice. As is true so many times with His disciples (and indeed with us even today) they don’t always comprehend Jesus on His first attempt. So today in the Gospel reading we hear Jesus expound... and He does so in such a personal way!
Jesus uses the analogy of the care of a hire hand verses that of the actual Shepherd. As as Mother, I can’t help but think of the way a babysitter cares for and loves my children. My kids have had the benefit of some awesomely fun babysitters! They take them to get ice cream, they spoil them with books at the Wellesley Book Store, they watch agonizingly repetitive Pixar movies with them, and they let them stay up late. Babysitters are a total party.
As a mother, I know my children and they know me. They know when I’ll say ‘yes’ and they know when I’ll need convincing. I would lay down my life for those two.
So it was with God’s people. They were led by fathers of faith, prophets and kings of the Old Testament (although I suppose it wasn’t always a party!). But Jesus is there at creation. Jesus is their creator. And with the high Christology of John, we hear that Jesus alone has the power to give his life, and take it up again.
Although many of us have never had the benefit of spending much time with Shepherds, we each can gather imagery of having witnessed that kind of tender and personal care. That kind of unrelenting commitment to each and every individual sheep is a divine love, that only Jesus is completely able to demonstrate for us.