Jesus said: “I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. A hired man, who is not a shepherd and whose sheep are not his own, sees a wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away, and 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. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. These also I must lead, and they will hear my voice, and there will be one flock, one shepherd. This is why the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down on My own. I have power to lay it down, and power to take it up again. This command I have received from My Father.”
A SHEPHERD WHO SMELLS LIKE SHEEP. Shepherds in rocky Palestine and its neighboring countries hold three things dearly: Water, their tents, and their sheep. Their sheep provide the shepherds with milk, wool, and meat.
Bad shepherds seek only to profit from the flock, “pasturing” themselves and neglecting the sheep. In Ezekiel’s parable of the Shepherds, the Lord has words of condemnation against them: “Woe to the shepherds of Israel who have been pasturing themselves! Should not shepherds pasture the flock? You consumed milk, wore wool, and slaughtered fatlings, but the flock you did not pasture” (Ez 34:2-3).
The Lord then enumerates the work of the true shepherd the bad ones have neglected: Strengthening the weak sheep, healing the sick, binding up the injured, bringing back the stray, seeking the lost, and leading the sheep to rich pastures. The Lord finally says, “I Myself will pasture My sheep; I Myself will give them rest” (Ez 34:15).
God’s personal intervention to take care of the sheep finds fulfillment in Jesus who declares, “I am the good shepherd.” He shows this in two ways: He knows His sheep and He lays down His life for the sheep. “Knowing” involves an intimate relationship, and Jesus compares this to the reciprocal knowledge between the Father and Himself as the Son. His offering of His own life is out of His own volition, His own love, and, at the same time, in accordance with the gracious will of God.
The bad shepherds in Ezekiel are in turn compared with hired hands who are only after their pay instead of caring for the sheep. In Jesus’ words, “a hired man, who is not a shepherd and whose sheep are not his own, sees a wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away, and the wolf catches and scatters them.” A true shepherd, however, will risk even his life to protect the flock.
In our day, Pope Francis compares the good shepherd to a priest, a minister, or a believer who “smells like sheep” precisely because he has gone to places that are dirty, smelly, and even dangerous because that is where the flock lives. He invites pastors to get out of their comfortable zones to be with the flock, to go where the action is. He also invites the community of God’s people to be an “evangelizing community” that gets involved by word and deed in people’s lives, bridges distances, embraces human lives, and touches the suffering flesh of Christ in others (Evangelii Gaudium, 24).