One of the most beloved figures of Jesus in the New Testament is the Good Shepherd. The popular depiction of Jesus in arts as Good Shepherd—with staff and carrying a lamb in his arms—is, however, not inspired by today’s passage but an image from Isaiah: “Like a shepherd he feeds his flock; in his arms he gathers the lambs, carrying them in his bosom, leading the ewes with care” (40:11). The image evokes the tenderness and meekness of a shepherd.
Shepherding in the Bible is depicted both in negative and positive images. Ezekiel portrays the bad leaders in Israel as self-serving shepherds who pasture themselves instead of the sheep: “You consumed milk, wore their wool, and slaughtered fatlings, but the flock you did not pasture. You did not strengthen the weak nor heal the sick nor bind up the injured. You did not bring back the stray or seek the lost but ruled them harshly and brutally. So they were scattered for lack of a shepherd, and became food for all the wild beasts” (34:3-5). It was during such a bad situation that the prediction came: “I will appoint one shepherd over them to pasture them, my servant David” (Ez 34:23).
This one shepherd is Jesus. He found God’s people in the same bad circumstances during his public ministry so that he felt compassion for them “for they were like sheep without a shepherd” (Mk 6:34). He compared the leaders of the Jews to strangers whose voice the sheep refused to follow (Jn 10:5). They were like hired hands who cared nothing for the sheep and fled at the sight of danger (Jn 10:12). In reality, a shepherd’s life is not always a picture of a young man sitting on a meadow playing flute while the sheep graze. Jesus himself described the need for the shepherd to defend the sheep from wolves and thieves. This even at the cost, at times, of the shepherd’s life.
Today, the Church celebrates the World Day of Prayer for Vocations. It was established in 1963 in response to Jesus’ instruction, “Ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest” (Mt 9:38; Lk 10:2). While appreciating all vocations, the Church concentrates today her attention to the ordained ministries (priesthood and diaconate), religious life, societies of apostolic life, secular institutes, and all those who serve in the mission. As Jesus takes on himself the biblical image of God as “the Good Shepherd,” shepherding the people the same way as God does, we also pray that God may sustain these laborers in the Lord’s harvest to be good shepherds, that they may be what the First Reading tells of Barnabas and Paul, “a light to the Gentiles,” “an instrument of salvation to the ends of the earth.”
SOURCE: “365 Days with the Lord 2022,” ST. PAULS, 7708 St. Paul Rd., SAV, Makati City (Phils.); Tel.: 632-895-9701; Fax 632-895-7328; E-mail: [email protected]; Website: http://www.stpauls.ph.