Jesus, The Good Shepherd

My dear friends,

The Gospel today is one of many that show how Jesus was able to use the stuff of every day life to teach the people about God and the plan of salvation. This particular passage from St. John is often called the “Good Shepherd discourse,” for Jesus refers to himself as the “Good Shepherd.” One way that distinguishes John’s Gospel from the other Gospels is the use of several titles or names for Jesus, and each one reveals something about who Jesus is, especially in his relationship to us.

In the beginning, Jesus is called “the Word” who became flesh. John the Baptist calls him “the Lamb of God” and “the Bridegroom.” Throughout the rest of the Gospel, Jesus uses several “I am . . .” statements: I am the Bread of Life; I am the Light of the world; I am the Resurrection; I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life; I am the Vine. In today’s Gospel, Jesus refers to himself as “the Door” and “the Gate” of the sheepfold, and “the Good Shepherd” of the sheep.

What does it mean for Jesus to be “the Gate” and “the Good Shepherd?” To understand these, it would be helpful to understand something about shepherding back in that time. First of all, the Shepherd goes ahead of the sheep. In some areas of England and Australia the shepherd stays behind the sheep. As disciples of Jesus, we are not leaders, we are followers. In humility and child-like trust, we allow Jesus to lead us. Those who make the best servant leaders within the Church are those who have first learned how to be good followers.

Jesus highlights another trait of shepherding; the sheep know the shepherd’s voice. During the time of Jesus, in that part of the world, sheep were not raised for slaughter but for their wool, so it was not uncommon for a shepherd to bond closely with his sheep. Sheep have an amazing ability to distinguish their shepherd’s voice, even when there may be several different flocks grazing together.

Jesus comes into the world as God’s voice, a voice that leads us to the green pastures of a joyful, fruitful life of self-giving love and service, a voice that safely leads us to heaven. Our intimate connection to Jesus by the gift of faith and love allows our hearts to become attuned to his voice. This is very important, for there are other voices, like the voice of temptation, which can lead us astray. Adam and Eve chose not to listen to the voice of God, but to the voice of the “father of lies,” and so were led astray.

At night, the shepherd would lead the sheep into “sheepfolds,” which were stone enclosures around the countryside. The opening was narrow, and the shepherd would take his rod and hold it very low across the opening, so that the sheep had to pass slowly under it. It gave the shepherd the chance to examine the sheep for wounds or anything that needed his tender care and attention.

How well this translates in our Christian life, for there are moments when we too come before the loving gaze of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, to be healed and forgiven. It could be a simple examination of the day before bed time; a quiet time before Mass or the moment of examination before Confession.

A final detail about shepherding is that the sheepfolds did not have gates or doors, so the shepherd often slept across the opening. This meant that nothing could leave or enter, unless it passed through the shepherd. Jesus is both the door and the gatekeeper. He is the only “doorway” to the Father and eternal life, and as the gatekeeper, Jesus protects us from the wolves and other enemies that try to snatch us away from God.

How blessed we are to have Jesus as our Good Shepherd. Let us recommit ourselves to his strong and tender care, knowing that He will lead us safely to the ever green pastures of eternal life.

Jesus bless you,

Fr. Steven

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