Read: John 10:11-18 NRSV
‘I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.’
The imagery of the good shepherd is used frequently throughout Scripture. Sheepherding was a common profession and the metaphor would have made sense to the early audiences of God’s Word. And, to modern audiences, there is still something special about the allegory that makes “the Good Shepherd” difficult to replace. No other profession so perfectly describes Christ’s relationship to His Church.
Sheep are extremely vulnerable. They have many natural predators and cannot run very fast, climb trees, fly, or hide very well. In order to protect the sheep, the shepherd must be with them at all times. And the worst part is, the sheep don’t help the shepherd that much. Sheep wander off and get lost. They “scatter” when a wolf comes among them.
Jesus is like a good shepherd. He understands that we put ourselves into danger and He is there to help us back into the safety of His presence because He loves us. We are all part of His fold. Even the sheep “who do not belong,” the gentiles, have been embraced and welcomed with the chosen people. We can sleep in the knowledge that the Good Shepherd is keeping the wolves at bay. When we are tangled in briars and burrs and the sun is sinking, we know that He is already looking for us. We know that He will willingly lay down His life to protect us.