Today is Good Shepherd Sunday. One of the most popular images of Jesus is that of the Good Shepherd. Even for city folks who probably have never seen a live shepherd and have probably never seen a live sheep outside of a petting zoo, the image of Jesus as our Good Shepherd continues to be one of our most comforting mental pictures.
As a child growing up, one of my favorite pictures on the wall of my room was a picture of Jesus as the Good Shepherd. It wasn’t magnificent art. In fact, it was rather plain. My grandpa found the picture, put it in a frame, and gave it to me. That in itself made the picture very special. The picture was that of a lone sheep that had obviously strayed from the flock. The sheep was stuck on a rocky ledge. It was in a very precarious spot. But Jesus, the Good Shepherd, is seen leaning down over that rocky ledge, about to rescue the sheep.
I identified with that lone sheep – too often straying, finding myself on a spiritual “rocky ledge,” but one for whom my Good Shepherd had searched, even into rocky terrain, one for whom my Good Shepherd was reaching down to save.
Over the years, of course, I learned more about sheep and shepherds. Sheep have been described as “regrettably stupid animals.” They are prone to go, heads down, from one tuft of grass to another, until they finally raise their heads and realize that they are completely lost. So we, like sheep, are prone to go, with our spiritual heads down, from one thing that commands our attention to another, until we finally look up and realize that we are completely lost. Like that sheep in my favorite picture, the more we try to straighten things out on our own, the more likely we are to fall even farther down that “rocky ledge.”
But Jesus, the Good Shepherd, comes seeking us. He finds us and, in His grace and mercy, leans down over that “rocky ledge” to rescue us. The shepherd in Jesus’ day, when he found a stray sheep, would pick it up in his arms and carry it back to the safety of the flock. The shepherd knew the sheep was probably too weak, maybe even wounded, to follow him, so he picked the sheep up and carried it. In our spiritual weakness, wounded as we are by life’s events, it would do no good for the Good Shepherd to berate us for wandering, conk us on the head, and say, “Come with me.” The Good Shepherd cares for us – carries us – in His love and mercy. He carries us back to the flock where He nourishes us with His Word of Scripture, with His true Body and Blood in the Eucharist.
“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want” (Ps. 23:1- NIV).