Jesus said: “I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
The image of the Good Shepherd is one of the earliest Christian images and one of the most popular even to this day.
Early Christian images were often symbolic. This was due to the need to be discreet in a world where Christians were often viewed with suspicion at best and persecuted, even to death, at worst. The image summoned up by the words of Jesus, “I am the good shepherd.”
The image of the Good Shepherd often depicts Jesus carrying the lost sheep on His shoulders, bringing the lost back. The image is evocative of the power and strength of Jesus as well as of His care and concern for each of the sheep. We see Him going off among the brambles and thorns, the rocks and cliffs, among the wolves and other dangers, letting nothing stop Him from His mission of care, His rescue.
As Christians, we have the same call, but it can be muffled by our dual personality.
The call is to be imitators of the Good Shepherd. W e are to live up to our responsibility to search for the lost. How many do we know that have lost their relationship or have a broken relationship with Jesus – we need to seek them out and bring them back. Jesus gives us the grace to have the same strength He has, so we can go among the brambles, thorns, rocks, cliffs, wolves and other dangers of this world to bring them back. As He carried us back or into the fold, we are to carry others back or into the fold.
Our dual personality is such, that while we are His sheep, we too go astray at times. Our call can be muffled by the sinful attraction of the world. It is in those moments that we may have confidence that Jesus will not leave us alone and abandoned in the wild. Jesus will marshal all His resources, graces, and people to bring us back. As we carry others back, Jesus carries us.
There are great temptations and sadness, seemingly impossible obstacles in our journey with Jesus’ flock. Yet we have great power in Jesus and the strong shoulders of a great God. It is time to have confidence; it is time to work out our shoulders in scripture, prayer, and the grace of sacramental encounter. The question is not who carries who, but the confidence that that Jesus carries us and we are strong to carry each other.