The Good Shepherd

Sadly we don't know what Jesus looked like. There were no images made of him during his lifetime - at least none that have endured.

But Jesus, in the gospels, describes himself to us in pictures. And one of those pictures is as the Good Shepherd.

The very first Christian images of Jesus show him as the good shepherd. The one above is found in the St. Callisto catacomb in Rome and is believed to have been painted around the 3rd century.

When Jesus tells us to think of him as the Good Shepherd he wants us to know that he cares for our wellbeing, like a good shepherd; that he will search for us if we go missing, like a good shepherd; that he will protect us from danger and assaults, like a good shepherd; that he will even be willing to lay down his life to save us, like a good shepherd.

It's a wonderful and powerful image. And a metaphor for God that runs throughout the Bible.

King David of Israel (a thousand years before the time of Jesus) wrote this wonderful Psalm - Psalm 23:

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff—
they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
my whole life long.

Old Testament prophets also speak of God as being like a 'true shepherd.' Here, for example, is a wonderful passage from Ezekiel:

For thus says the Lord God: I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. As shepherds seek out their flocks when they are among their scattered sheep, so I will seek out my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land; and I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the watercourses, and in all the inhabited parts of the land. I will feed them with good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel shall be their pasture; there they shall lie down in good grazing land, and they shall feed on rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord God. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice.

So a good way to start thinking about Jesus is to think of him as a shepherd, as your shepherd, and to see how you feel about that. Most shepherds - both in ancient times and today - are not grand, prestigious figures like bishops carrying bejewelled crooks - they are often poor elderly women or children, often of very low social status.

When Jesus says he is the good shepherd, we not only see his amazing love for us but we see his glorious humility. And we begin to get a sense of why and how Jesus is uniquely the one in whom we can really start to know God.

Posted by Martine Oborne