|Early depiction of the Good Shepherd - |
Catacomb of St. Priscilla, Rome
Today is Good Shepherd Sunday. The image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd is one of the earliest depictions of Jesus as shown above in this ceiling painting found in the Catacomb of Priscilla, where I had the privilege of seeing it. Even before images of the crucifixion became popular, the image of the Good Shepherd was the most popular portrayal of Jesus. The Gospel we hear today is from John 10, where Jesus identifies himself with the Good Shepherd. It is a bit different than the parables of the Lost Sheep that we hear in Matthew and Luke. When we think of Jesus as the Good Shepherd we easily identify Him with these parables, especially since artistic renderings usually show Jesus carrying a sheep on his shoulders, bringing it back to the flock. What makes the pericope from John different is that Jesus is not speaking about seeking out the lost, but giving up His life in protection of His flock. This Shepherd just doesn't go looking for lost sheep but protects all His sheep to the point of dying for them. Jesus also issues a warning for those who would lead His sheep astray, the "false shepherds," who do not really care for the sheep but just for their own gain.
Important to this passage is that Jesus identifies Himself with the Father. He says, "I AM the Good Shepherd." It is one of the seven "I AM" statements in John's Gospel. These statements recall what God said to Moses in Exodus 3:14 when Moses asked God to tell him His name, and God said "I AM WHO AM." Observant first century Jews would have easily made this connection.
|Good Shepherd mosaic|
Mausoleum of Galla, Ravenna, Italy
But the thing that stands out for me in this passage is, "The shepherd calls each of his sheep by name and leads them out...and the sheep follow him because they know his voice." The idea of God calling us by name is one that we hear over and over again in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. Yet, we have to be attentive to the call, and once we recognize Who it is that is calling us, I believe that the only choice we can make is to follow His voice because it leads to the abundant life. I think this is beautifully portrayed in this 5th century mosaic in Ravenna. In this mosaic, Jesus is not just a simple peasant shepherd, but He is easily identified as Christ by the gold nimbus, the cross, and the gold and purple colors of his garments. This mosaic is of Byzantine style so everything in it has some meaning.
Also today we celebrate Vocations Sunday. When Pope Paul VI instituted the first World Day of Prayer for Vocations in 1964, he said, "O Jesus, Divine Shepherd of the spirit, you have called the Apostles in order to make them fishermen of men, you still attract to you burning spirits and generous young people, in order to render them your followers and ministers to us." Let us pray today and always that more young people will be open to hearing God's call to serve God and God's people in ordained ministry, in religious life, and as lay leaders in our Church. But most of all, may we all be open to answering the Shepherd's call to follow Him where ever He may lead us.