By Fr Robert Barron (Wordonfire.org)
This great identification of Jesus as the Good Shepherd is one that has captivated the Christian imagination for two thousand years. One of the most beautiful depictions of Jesus from the early centuries is a statue of a young, beardless man holding a sheep over his shoulders. It’s an image, of course, which has come out of the agrarian culture of the first century, and one that ancient Israelites would be very familiar with.To the rural people who were his first followers, this image was natural. Shepherds guarded, guided, protected, and watched over their flocks – just as God guards, guides, protects and watches over Israel.
Now what precisely makes Jesus the Good Shepherd? The Good Shepherd is so other-oriented, so devoted to his sheep that he is willing to surrender his life that they might live. Now this sounds nice at first blush, but the longer you think about it, the stranger it becomes. Sure, a good shepherd should do all that he can to protect and guide his flock, but who among us would really expect him to give his life for them? Suppose a pack of wolves descended on the flock. Would we really expect the shepherd to throw himself in front of the ravenous creatures in order to protect the sheep? At the limit, we might expect him to give his life for his human family, or for other human beings, but for animals.
But this is precisely what Jesus claims to do. Imagine the difference between humans and sheep and now multiply that difference infinitely. That would give you some idea of the difference between God and humanity. And yet God is willing to lay down his life for the likes of us.