The famous painting of Jesus with a lamb hung over His shoulders comes to mind. The painting depicts a caring image for the sheep. He made a promise to all of humanity—that He will always take care of us.
Without delving too deeply into the psychology of sheep, we know that they are extremely dependent little animals. They flock together and they look to the shepherd for guidance. Without the shepherd they scatter—they can perish and become victims of a predator. Given all the modern methods at our disposal, shepherds are sill required to pastor the sheep. Jesus compared Himself to the Good Shepherd for several reasons. King David was a shepherd. Jesus was of the house of David, sort of like his last name. Born in Bethlehem, city of King David. Jesus probably never worked as an actual shepherd, but no doubt was familiar with the vocation. The work is exhausting since the shepherd must be on constant watch. Just takes a second for a dumb sheep to get caught in a fence, killed by a wolf, or get lost. One of the realities that makes the shepherd’s job easier is the personal relationship with each sheep. Usually, he calls them by name. Just like having a pet. Our animals become part of our family. We are sad when they get sick, we miss them when we are away, and we mourn them when they die. For a good shepherd, each sheep is special to him. They hear his voice, and they listen, they obey. The shepherd would never do anything to harm the sheep. He wants only good for them. So why are we afraid? Why do we entertain doubts about our worthiness? There is nothing to fear from the Shepherd.
Perhaps the doubts will always present themselves, particularly when we know that we have failed to follow the shepherd’s voice. We know what He wants. He wants us to behave ourselves. To take care of each other, especially the ones who are powerless, who do not look like they belong to the flock. Precisely the least among us—those are the ones that we should care for the most. But we don’t. We ignore them; put them where they will not bother us; we tend to forget about them. The Shepherd’s voice is consistent. His message to us will not change; nor will his love. Do we ever ask ourselves, how much are we worth? What is the Shepherd willing to do for us? He gave His life to save us. We, the sheep will never have to die. The Shepherd has made an eternal investment in His flock. He wants us and He wants us forever. Unlike so many sheep that are running around lost, we know to whom we belong.
We come with a warranty. “No one can take us out of the Father’s hand.” Since the Shepherd and the Father are one—we are in good hands. If we want to be. Naturally, we always have a choice. God does not hold us prisoners. The Shepherd invites us but does not force us against our will. That’s a major difference between us and ordinary sheep—we have freedom—we make choices. Consider that when we make wrong choices the Shepherd does not give up on us. On the contrary, He comes looking for us, to bring us back. Imagine a Shepherd that does not get angry, does not lose patience, does not keep track of our mistakes. We will not find a more perfect relationship. The best way to respond is to try to listen. He tells us that we are loved no matter what happens. The Good Shepherd does not accuse us. He does not hold us accountable for past sins because He already paid the price on the cross. The least that we can do is to make Him the center of our life. Making Jesus the center of our life means that nothing and no one can be more important than He. “I was too busy. We had to play golf. Unexpected company arrived.” The Lord must come first, especially on the weekend for Holy Mass. This is the best place to listen to His voice.
The Good Shepherd speaks to us all the time, any place. Yet, at Holy Mass we hear His Word and are invited the Table of Life. We become one with the Shepherd who holds us in His hand.