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.
We pause this Sunday to reflect on Jesus in His role as the Good Shepherd. We can easily identify with what a good shepherd does by looking at Jesus’ words in their cultural context.
Middle eastern cultures understood what good shepherding was all about. It was about feeding the lambs, bringing them to good pasture lands and water, grooming and clipping them, delivering new lambs, leading them and teaching them to stay together, going off after the wandering lost ones, and protecting the sheep in the field and in the fold.
To feed the sheep means to take care of them from the beginning of life. Good shepherds begin the lambs’ introduction to the ways of God, first with the milk of instruction and teaching in God’s way. Then the good shepherds move them to solid food – food for lives lived in righteousness so that the lambs can be fully equipped, able to stand in the day of testing.
Grooming the lambs means good shepherds honestly correct what is wrong and failing in them. Good shepherds must teach lambs discipline and encourage and rebuke them so that they stay true to the Lord and fit for His service.
Delivering the sheep means that good shepherds preach the Gospel so that many are brought to new life – born again and regenerated. Good shepherds must bring many to God’s light so that no darkness can overcome their lives.
The other side of the equation is that good shepherds lead flocks, not just individual sheep. We run into problems when we see Jesus as solely a personal Good Shepherd. True, He is Good Shepherd to us as individuals but not only. Jesus wanted to make sure that we receive all the benefits of being part of His flock, that we be fed, pastured, groomed and trained, that we stay together, that the lost among us be led back, and that we are protected.
To do all this Jesus gave us shepherds who were loyal to His way. We are blessed to have His shepherds among us to this day, who lead us in the pristine Christian faith.
Our bishops and priests maintain the flock and carry out Jesus’ work of shepherding. They further call us to be good shepherds to one another. They ask us to take up the same work of feeding, grooming, and delivering each other. Let us honor the work of our good shepherds and take their and our responsibility seriously.