Surely for the post modern mostly urban culture of the West, this image may well seem a bit arcane and less accessible than it was to our ancestors. Jesus is depicted, through the use of this image, as a shepherd, who was, in that time and in that culture, a relatively unimportant and certainly not powerful figure.
The disciples and all those who followed Jesus around experienced Jesus as kind and gentle, like the “good” shepherd who watches over the sheep with great care and concern and even risks his/her own safety for the sake of the sheep.
This image of a kind and gentle god was somewhat unique, but then so was the idea of a god who would be willing to suffer and die for us.
I believe that this image of the Good Shepherd has endured precisely because of its radical departure of a more common image of a distant and disinterested and sometimes even vengeful god. One to whom you made sacrifices to appease his/her anger and rage for any possible slights or missteps against them you may have made, and thus survive for another day.
This image of “the good shepherd” tells us that our God loves us and cares for us and journeys with us as we travel through the valleys and hills of our lives. Our God, holds us in his hands!
But too, it may well speak to us of what we are called to be...in Christ’s image...”good shepherds” of the lost and vulnerable, the poor and the forsaken.
As disciples of Christ we are called to reach out to the poor, to reach out to the marginalized and the ones society dismisses or demeans.
And as we have just recently celebrated Earth Day, we recognize that truly “good shepherds” also recognize the importance of all of creation and our environment, for our sheep depend on a healthy ecosystem. So as “good shepherds” we are also called to care for creation, to be aware of how our lives impact the earth and the lives of others.
And so we ask ourselves: how am I being called to be a “good shepherd” in my family, in my school or place of work, in my community, in my nation, in the wider world? What am I willing to risk “as a good shepherd” for the sake of the flock... for the sake of creation...for building up of the Reign of God?