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The good shepherd

The first image of the Good Shepherd in our mind is that of the Master who holds a lamb in his arms or on the shoulders. It is true: Jesus is the good shepherd who goes out of his way to search for the lost sheep, an image from the Gospel of Luke (15:4-8). The good shepherd that John speaks of is not this sweet and tender image but the hard, strong man, determined to fight the bandits and the ferocious animals, as what David did by chasing the lion and the bear that tore a sheep away from the flock; he knocked them down and plucked the victim from their mouth (1 Samuel 17:34-35). 
 
My sheep—Jesus says—they shall never perish; no one will ever steal them from me. Their salvation is not guaranteed by their docility, their loyalty, but by his initiative, his courage, his gratuitous and unconditional love. This is the beautiful news that Easter announces and what a Christian believer must communicate to every person. Even to those who have it all wrong in life he must ensure: your miseries, your shortcomings, your choices of death will not be able to defeat the love of Christ.
 
The flock following the “Good Shepherd is composed of who?” Some will perhaps spontaneously answer: lay people who meekly accept and practise all the norms established by the clergy. Pastors are therefore the Church hierarchy, while sheep would be the ordinary faithful. We make it clear: the only shepherd is Christ, because he is the Lamb who has sacrificed his own life. His sheep are those who have the courage to follow him in this gift of life. The shepherd is then a Lamb that shares in all the fate of the flock.
 
Today’s Gospel says that it is not we who take the initiative to follow him. He is the one who calls: “My sheep hear my voice and I know them and they follow me.” 
 
The disciples of Jesus live in this world, living among people. They hear so many calls and receive even misleading messages. There are many who pose as shepherds, that promise life, well-being, happiness and invite people to follow them. It is easy to be deceived by charlatans. 
 
Amidst many voices, how can one recognise the voice of the true shepherd? It is necessary to accustom the ear. He who hears a person only for five minutes, and then for a year does not hear him at all, will find it difficult to distinguish his voice in the crowd. 
 
It is not easy to trust Jesus because he does not promise success, triumphs, victories, as do all the other shepherds. 
 
He asks for the gift of self, demands the renunciation of seeking one’s own advantage, demands the sacrifice of life. And yet—he assures—this is the only path that leads to eternal life. There are no shortcuts; who indicates other paths is cheating and leads to death.
 
● Father Fernando Armellini CMF
Claretian Publications
bibleclaret.org
 
Translated by Father John Ledesma SDB
Abridged by Father Thomas Thennedyil CMF