In the tenth chapter of John’s Gospel (10:22-30), Jesus, the “Good Shepherd,” speaks of himself as the One who gives “eternal life” (10:28) to his sheep. This image of the shepherd is deeply rooted in Old Testament imagery and is cherished in the Christian tradition. The Prophets had ascribed to King David the moniker: “Shepherd of Israel”, which, of course, is a clear foreshadowing in the New Testament of Jesus as the Good Shepherd.
Indeed, Jesus is the true Shepherd of Israel, since he is the Son of Man who desired to share the condition of human beings, to give them new life and lead them to salvation. Therefore, it is of immeasurable significance that the Evangelist (writing in his native Koine Greek) adds to the term “shepherd” the adjective kalós (“good”), which John only uses in his Gospel with reference to Jesus and his divinely appointed mission. Thus, we have read these words of Jesus in John’s Gospel: “I give them [that is, to my sheep] eternal life and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:28). These are the words of the same Jesus, who had said in verse eleven of chapter ten these words, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep.” Thus, it is clear, that John’s intention is to affirm that the Redeemer has absolute free will to do with his life as he chooses and thereby give it up or take it back freely.
The True Good Shepherd
Christ is the true Good Shepherd who gave his life for his sheep, for us, sacrificing himself on the Cross. So, we read in verses fourteen and fifteen of chapter ten in John’s Gospel: “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.”
This is not for Jesus a matter of mere intellectual knowledge of his sheep but of a profound, personal relationship: a knowledge of the heart, of one who loves and one who is loved; of one who is faithful and one who knows how to be trustworthy. It is a knowledge of love, by virtue of which the Shepherd invites his sheep to follow him and which is fully manifest in the gift of eternal life that he offers to them: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27).
We baptized Christians are God’s “chosen race” and “royal priesthood,” his “holy nation,” (1 Peter 2:9). May the certainty that Christ does not abandon us, and that no obstacle can thwart the accomplishment of his providential plan of salvation, be a cause of constant consolation, steadfast hope, and joy for each one of us – even as we travel through the midst of life’s inevitable difficulties. The Lord’s goodness is always with us, even “to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20) and is infinitely more powerful than the wiles of this world, the flesh, and the Devil: thus, nothing can “snatch” you out of his hand (John 10:28).
The Ministry of Attentive Sheep
By virtue of the Sacrament of Holy Baptism we have all been made sharers in Christ’s very mission of salvation – the “Great Commission” (see Matthew 18:16-20). We are therefore, having weekly nourished ourselves in a state of grace at the Communion Table of his Body and Blood, called to scatter the seed of his Word, the seed that carries within itself the Kingdom of God; to dispense divine mercy in our daily charity. Indeed, to be his worthy ministers (attentive sheep of the Good Shepherd) we must ceaselessly, with grateful anticipation, come to the house of the Lord and nourish ourselves Sunday by Sunday in the grace and sweet refreshment of his Word and Sacrament.
The Eucharistic Celebration is the greatest and highest act of prayer. In fact, this “knowing” and “being known” in Christ and, through him, in the Holy Trinity, is none other than the most true and deep reality of prayer. The disciple who prays much, and who prays well, is progressively drawn out of him or herself and is evermore united to Jesus the Good Shepherd, he who is the selfless servant of the brethren.
In appropriately approaching the Holy Table of communion with Jesus, we increasingly discover the richness and tenderness of the love of the divine Teacher, who is specifically drawing us into a closer friendship of genuine affection with him. If we listen distinctly to him – to his voice – if we follow him faithfully, we will learn to express in our lives, and in the Church Universal’s collective “work of ministry” (Ephesians 4:12), his love and his passion for the salvation of souls. With our Lord’s supernatural help each one of us has the capability of becoming an icon of the Good Shepherd, ready, if necessary, to lay down our lives for Christ, and for our friends and strangers alike.
As one reads through the text of the Acts of the Apostles, one finds that at the beginning of the Church’s life, the Good News, the Gospel, was constantly being delivered to the world amid calamities and countless perils. In knowledge of this fact, I am always encouraged “with joy that is inexpressible” (1 Peter 1:8), that in the Acts of the Apostles we read (13:52) that in the heat of such turmoil, “the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.”
Thus, every disciple of the Good Shepherd experiences in turn the Cross, and only through this can we become truly useful in the building up of the Body of Christ – the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. God loves to build his Church with people who, following Jesus, place their entire trust in Him; for as the author of Psalm 118 says (118:8-9): “It is better to rely on the LORD than to put any trust in [human] flesh. It is better to rely on the LORD than to put any trust in [earthly] rulers.”
Despite the inescapable hardships we face as disciples of the Lord in this world, we regenerate Believers do not lose joy in our vocation; indeed, we are witnesses of that joy which flows from being an adopted child of God through the waters of Baptism; a joy that issues from our love for the Master and for all those whom we desire to see come to a saving knowledge of this Good Shepherd – Jesus Christ.
Let us pray that all of us who are chosen by divine providence to such a lofty mission may be accompanied by the prayerful communion of all the faithful saints – both here on earth and those in heaven. Let us also pray that in every church, congregation and parish of the Universal Church scattered throughout the world (even in our sinfully divided state), that each member of the royal priesthood of believers would, therefore, have a heart for the salvation of souls. Let us further pray that we may be faithful to the Great Commission to which the Lord is calling us every day and be ready to renew a “yes” to God every morning without reserve.
Dear sisters and brothers, lodged safely in the bosom of the Good Shepherd, may we allow ourselves by God’s grace to be transformed in our hearts and renewed in our minds by heavenly things. Only in this way is it possible to be faithful images of the Good Shepherd; only in this way can we with joy carry out the vocation of sharing the Good News of God in Christ with a world which Jesus acquired at the price of his own blood.