Gospel Story: I Am The Good Shepherd

The image of the shepherd and his sheep is part of Biblical folklore from the very first pages of Genesis.

Abel was a shepherd, as was Abraham and the other patriarchs. King David came from a pastoral background, and the best loved psalm of all is “The Lord is my shepherd”.

Jesus himself often uses the imagery of the ‘lost sheep’ and ‘sheep without a shepherd’ in the course of his public life.

But the image of the shepherd is not just pastoral, it is spiritual. It signifies the care the leader – or king – must have for those entrusted to his charge. It is in this context that Jesus calls himself “the Good Shepherd”, and again “the door of the sheepfold”. So great is his care for the flock that, of his own accord he will sacrifice his life for his sheep.

If Jesus is the “Good Shepherd”, who are the “false shepherds” ? All those who do not care for the flock, the hirelings who flee at the first sign of danger and abandon the flock to the wolves. In Jesus’s day, these were the scribes and Pharisees who overburdened the people with demands of the Law and had no compassion in their hearts for the weak and those in need.

Then there were the thieves and robbers who do not enter the sheepfold by the gate. They try to lead the flock astray but the sheep will not listen to their voice and will not follow them. It is the voice of the Good Shepherd which is heard and followed and the sheep go easily “to restful waters, to revive their drooping spirits.”

“I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold,” says Jesus, “and they too will listen to my voice.” The implication is clear; Jesus has come not just for Israel but for the pagans too, and they too are meant to share in the grace of salvation. The way to eternal life is the same – to listen to the voice of God in Jesus and respond with faith.

“I have come,” says Jesus “that men may have life, and have it in all its fullness.” What is this fullness of life which Jesus brings? It is the life in the Spirit and the enjoyment of the charisms, the gifts of the Spirit.

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