Fr Peter Ford OGS reflects on what it means to call Jesus the Good Shepherd.
Jesus said “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me” (John 10.14)
On this Good Shepherd Sunday what does it mean when Jesus calls Himself “The Good Shepherd”?
You may have been lucky to have known a shepherd but for many of us our understanding comes from television and the images of the good shepherd from art and bible stories.
It may be the art of the Pre-Raphalites, the pictures of Jesus in stained glass and of course from our hymns. The hymn “The Lord’s my Shepherd” and its variants: “The King of Love my Shepherd is” or “The God of Love my Shepherd Is”. Sometimes it the music – Crimond and the beautiful music of John Rutter. Another inspirational tune is Brother James’ Air.All adds up to a mosaic of our understanding of Jesus, the Good Shepherd. But this image may be a little removed from the image in the bible.
Jesus was no soft option!
But Jesus was no soft option! Even here He is being very political! In the Old Testament the leaders of Israel are often called the ‘Shepherds of Israel’ and there were often many scandals and issues surrounding them – usually corruption and greed. So when Jesus says “I am the Good Shepherd” He is really challenging the present day order and that is not in just a religious sense but also in a political sense. But the concept of Good Shepherd is even greater!
In his book The Good Shepherd, published in 2015, Kenneth E Bailey identifies nine situations, from Psalm 23 to 1 Peter, that prove that Jesus is Messiah and Redeemer:
- Psalm 23
- Jeremiah 23.1-8
- Ezekiel 34
- Zechariah 10.2-12
- Luke 15.1-10
- Mark 6.7-12
- Matthew 10-14
- John 10.1-18
- 1 Peter 5.1-4
Of course many in history and perhaps even today make similar statements, but Jesus is different in two respects:
- He is prepared to die for the sheep, and
- He knows them, even down to the numbers of hairs on their head.
In Psalm 23, the Good Shepherd declares that He will be with us in the darkest of times. He will comfort us as we travel through the valley of the shadow of death. He is with us. He is with us at this present time of a pandemic Virus, when we are isolated from our families, our friends and every one we would normally have contact with.
This is particular hard when we lose someone. Not only the separation caused by death, but of not been able to mourn, or be at the bedside of a loved. It is hard. But we take hope in Jesus, The Good Shepherd, for He goes where we cannot go and he is with those we are unable to be with.
Our loved ones may seem to have died alone, and others living alone be seen to be isolated, but as St Paul says: “I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8 38-39). So we can be confident that Jesus’ promise is true “I am the Good Shepherd and I know my sheep”.
Sisters and brothers, we are the sheep of His pasture and He loves us very dearly.
Our Father Superior, Bishop Lindsay Urwin OGS, has also written a letter to the Oratory Community for Good Shepherd Sunday, which you can read here.
O God, our sovereign and shepherd,
who brought again your Son Jesus Christ
from the valley of death,
comfort us with your protecting presence
and your angels of goodness and love,
that we also may come home
and dwell with him in your house for ever. Amen.
Common Worship Psalm-Prayer for Psalm 23.