Life & Soul

Jesus is the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep

A mosaic of the Good Shepherd in the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia in Ravenna

The Gospel and Letters of St John describe, in the most profound way, lives that are lived in communion with Christ, our Risen Lord.

The image of the Good Shepherd has its roots in the Old Testament, but finds its most sublime expression in the words of Jesus. Here Jesus takes an image from the pasture and elevates it to describe an entirely new relationship with the Father established in Christ’s death and Resurrection.

Jesus is, first and foremost, the gate of the sheepfold. Through him all can pass safely into the presence of the Father, and, in his saving presence, find sustenance and peace. Simple though this image is, it describes the experience of every sinner who has felt lost to the Father. Sin isolates us within ourselves, leaving us longing for the Father without knowing the way back. In his death and Resurrection Jesus became the Gate,
the Way back to the Father. “I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd is one who lays down his life for his sheep.”

Through his death on the Cross Jesus was raised up, becoming for us the gateway to the Father. We ourselves are raised up in Jesus, coming to know and love the Father as Jesus is known and loved by the Father. “I am the good shepherd; I know my own and my own know me, just as I know the Father, and I lay down my life for my sheep.”

These words take our lives to the heart of the Trinity. In the relationship of Father and Son we see the perfect gift of self, leading to the perfection of love and understanding. Through Christ’s self-giving on the Cross, we are enabled to know and be known by Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

The generosity of Christ, the Good Shepherd, reaches out to embrace the whole world. “And there are other sheep I have that are not of this fold, and these I have to lead as well. They too will listen to my voice, and there will be only one flock and one shepherd.”

Christ, the Risen Lord, described himself as sent by the Father, and sent his Church into the world as he himself had been sent by the Father. If we are to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, then our lives must become a gate to the Father’s compassion and mercy. We must grow sensitive to an unbelieving world, allowing ourselves to be known, so that in us the world might come to know and love the Father. This is not beyond us, because, in John’s words, we are already the children of God, called to become like him and to see him as he really is.

This article first appeared in the latest edition of the Catholic Herald magazine (24/4/15).

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