May 08, 2022
There are times when a poetic and artistic sensibility will help us break open the Word of God. In the beginning of the Gospel according to John the Evangelist, John the Baptist points out Jesus, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Jewish listeners will immediately think of the Passover meal and their Exodus from Egypt. Here we have a visual image of Jesus as God’s gentle lamb and sacrificial offering. In chapter 10 of John’s Gospel, Jesus speaks of himself as a Good Shepherd recalling Psalm 23 “The Lord is my shepherd.” Using the familiar pastoral images of shepherd and sheep, Jesus can present himself as God’s good shepherd. The sheep recognize his voice. Jesus knows them and they follow. Jesus uses words and images to convey both his care, his protection and closeness to the flock and his closeness to God. “The Father and I are one.”
Christ the Good Shepherd calls us to listen consciously, wisely, to his voice in the quiet of our hearts. It is a difficult task to do when there is so much noise and so many contrary voices in our world. Jesus is asking us to listen to his voice in the love and joy, pain and anguish, the cries for mercy and justice of those around us. We are challenged to be the voice of Christ’s compassion, comfort, forgiveness and peace in our words and acts of kindness and generosity. Like the Good Shepherd, we are challenged to extend ourselves with genuine concern and care, with strength and courage, for the wellbeing of others, even at the cost of giving up our lives like the Lamb of God.
Jesus calls each of us to take on the role of “shepherd” – to walk and lead one another through the steep paths and dangerous ridges we all must walk, not diminishing the danger or pain but helping one another make our way through it. Shepherds are often artistically depicted walking with a staff -- to fend off danger, to face the truth, despite our own fears, to search for God’s light in the darkness, and to steady ourselves as we extend a hand to others.
I see these two pastoral images of Shepherd and Lamb of God exemplified in mothers, on this Mother’s Day, and in fathers. Recently, I interviewed our teen candidates for confirmation. I asked them whom they chose to be their sponsor and why. In their own words they described the person as someone “shepherding” them and becoming their spiritual guide. The images of Jesus as Good Shepherd and as Lamb of God still resonate with us. “Shepherd me, O God beyond my wants, beyond my fears, from death into life.”
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