By Fr. Thomas M. Santa, CSsR
Most of us probably don’t know much about sheep, but even if all we know about sheep is what we learned from homilies, we do know some things: Left to their own devices, sheep are pretty vulnerable. There╒s a special bond between shepherds and their sheep. Sheep respond to the voice of their shepherd. And, finally, we know that all of this has something to do with Jesus╒ identification of himself as our shepherd.
With all the images available to the Lord, why did he so often identify himself as a shepherd? Why did he use this image on numerous occasions to describe the relationship between himself and each of us?
The most obvious reason is that in the time of Jesus there were many shepherds and even more sheep, so most people knew what he was talking about.
But perhaps Jesus╒ choice was about more than just convenience. If being a shepherd is all about leading and guiding the flock to safety, Jesus must have thought we need to be protected from something. What could it have been?
Scripture scholars suggest that for the early Church, the image of Jesus as the shepherd was very powerful because the fragile Christian community needed to feel protected from persecution. Friends and family members were hunted down, rounded up, and put to death because they were Christian. It probably gave them great comfort to know that the little flock╤the first community of Christians╤would persevere and be brought safely to the kingdom of God.
In later centuries the Christian community was established within the Roman Empire and no longer feared persecution, but life wasn╒t worry-free. Marauding pirates could sweep down at any moment, active as they were on the Mediterranean Sea. The Vikings and other tribes from the north were constant threats, as were the Germanic tribes, the Lombards, Muslims, and others. It was reassuring to know that Christ was shepherding his people and that, ultimately, there was nothing to fear.
Still later, the threat came from newfangled ideas: The sun, not the earth, is the center of the universe. The Bible can be read and interpreted by people in their own homes╤Bible study isn╒t the exclusive work of priests and nuns. God╒s people needed to be protected from such ideas so they wouldn╒t stray from the truth. They needed a shepherd to lead and guide them.
Today, most of us don╒t have to face the dangers our ancestors feared. But does that mean we no longer need a shepherd? What do we need protecting from? How does Jesus shepherd us today?
For most of us, the real threat isn╒t from external forces, but from forces within us. We believe in our own intelligence. We trust our own informed opinions. We feel comfortable with what we perceive, and as a result resist many of the values that gave life to our ancestors.
This is wonderful, because it means we╒re asserting the gifts and talents we╒ve received from God. But we also need to freely put aside total independence, our own opinions and thoughts, and having things our way.
We need a shepherd to help us confront our reluctance to be led. There is something important in the whole idea of being led, and who better to show us the way to the ultimate and eternal truths then Jesus, our shepherd?
For people with scrupulosity, a first step in accepting Jesus as your Good Shepherd is to trust that he will shepherd you from fear and anxiety to confidence and trust.
A second step is to ask the Good Shepherd to help you resist the tendency to be in complete control at each moment. Trust that he will ultimately shepherd you to a place of safety and peace.
Let us pray: ╥Jesus, our Good Shepherd, guide and lead us today and every day of our life!╙