Jesus used several images to describe Himself. He said, “I am the Bread come down from heaven” “I am the way, the truth and the life.” He also said, “I am the Good Shepherd.” Which probably did not make much sense to the listeners since He was a carpenter.
Jesus was the son of Joseph, a carpenter. That’s the trade he learned from childhood. Yet, He proved to the Apostles that He was also a good fisherman, better than they were. Jesus was a healer, a teacher, a scholar. In other words, He fit anywhere among anyone. Yet, the image of the Good Shepherd rings true for us. The image resonates with our needs because we know that we can be as dumb as sheep and Jesus is always around to show us the way. Sheep are very dependent on the shepherd, for everything. They do not seem to get smarter with age. (Sound familiar?) Someone said, “I don’t want to curse anymore. I don’t want to get angry with people with whom I live. I don’t want to have bad thoughts.” Well, “How old are you?” “Are these issues something new?” “I’m 85 years old.” At that stage of life, we are better off making peace with who we are. Some characteristics are here to stay. We cannot expect drastic changes at the “jumping off place”. Behavior is easier to change than attitude. Our dentist can show us better ways to brush our teeth. But the way we treat our spouse, our children, our coworkers is much more difficult to change. Patterns from developmental years, the way we were treated, old wounds—all contribute to our attitude. We are creatures of habit, like sheep. There is security in repetition. That’s why we come to the same Holy Mass and sit in the same pew every weekend. We are predictable. There might be a few surprises along the way, but for the most part, we are predictable.
Remember the old high school annuals? Remember some of the titles that were used under the pictures? “Most likely to succeed”. “Most handsome” “Most beautiful”. Notice that the opposite titles were never used. “Most likely to fail”. “Most homely”. “Most pimple face”. No one had to put those tiles under the pictures because we all knew who they were. Teenagers can be mean. Just like adults. We have our prejudices. There are some folks with whom we like to associate, others we prefer to avoid. Eventually the titles were dropped from school annuals, but not the prejudices. There is still a lot of discrimination, bullying, unfair treatment. However, our schools are a reflection our community. Youngsters are likely to repeat the behavior they see from their parents.
Consequently, sheep are communal animals. They imitate one another. Remember the old saying, “If one sheep jumps over the cliff, they all will jump over the cliff.” Consider the fashions that dictate how we want to look. Cell phones that we can’t live without. Cars we must have. There is strength in numbers. But there is also ignorance that is perpetuated because “everyone is doing it.” Adultery, divorce, violence in the home—realities that are overwhelmingly popular. Popularity does not make them right. We know what the Good Shepherd wants. He wants us to be safe, to be happy and to one day be in heaven with Him. “The Lord is my Shepherd, there is nothing I shall want.” What do we want? What do we covet? When we are in the Shepherd’s company, we do not need anything else. He is the One who can completely satisfy our needs. Consider the countless number of people who are unhappy. They keep looking for happiness away from the Shepherd. Big mistake! However, the Shepherd does not give up on anyone. We do. We judge, condemn and refuse to associate with lost sheep. Not the Lord. He comes after us. His love is without conditions. Even when we give up on ourselves, the Lord calls out to us.
We celebrate that we are loved. Our challenge is to listen to His voice. The Good Shepherd will always lead us where we need to be.