April 26, 2015: Fourth Sunday of Easter
Jesus said: “I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the ship. A hired man, who is not a shepherd and whose sheep are not his own, sees a wolf coming, leaves the sheep and runs away. The wolf catches and scatters them. This is because he works for pay and has no concern for the sheep. I am the good shepherd, and I know mine and mine know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I will lay down my life for the sheep. (John 10:11-18)
While we are very familiar with the story of the good shepherd, what we can’t fully appreciate is what this story meant for the Christians of the early church. This story is about images of God. This is not a God who is far away from us, sitting on a cloud in the skies, observing all that transpires. The Shepherd God of John’s Gospel is yet another example of the simple, rustic stories of Jesus to tell us who he is—who God is. This image would have been clear to the hearers. A shepherd, who was guarding his own sheep, had a deep and personal relationship with each one. Likely, the shepherd knew them by name, caring for them from birth. This was far more than a business; this loving protection was a way of life. The sheep were alive, often in danger, and needed great care. The shepherd would, and sometimes did, lay down his life for his flock. This image of God is one who is as close to us as the shepherd to sheep; one who is willing to lay down his life to validate what he told us; one who sees the danger we may face, and even when we stray from the flock, gently guides us back. This is a relational, personal, interactive God who never, ever, abandons us.
Our relationship to God is born from our image(s) of God. This story provides an opportunity to reflect on those images, and honestly assess how they impact our faith life. Draw them, write them, pray them, then compare them to the close, loving, ever-present image of the shepherd in today’s Gospel.
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