We all know about being a shepherd and tending sheep, so I should just stop right here.
Of all the titles given to Jesus, I think we’d all agree that that of “shepherd” is the most enduring and tender of the list. “Son of God” has an authoritative ring to it and “Messiah” has a triumphant sound to it. But “shepherd?” That one has a gentleness to it. The picture of Jesus carrying one around his neck touches the hearts of everyone. Even atheists might whisper to themselves, “There something to this man.”
All of the Bible makes a big deal about names. “At the name of Jesus, every knee…” “The name of God is above every other…” “I name you Peter and upon this rock…”
It’s not only the name of shepherd that Jesus gives himself but it’s the resume that he supplies us. He knows every single sheep inside out. So much for gentle tenderness. I know married couples of over sixty years who still surprise each other. I don’t want anyone knowing me that completely. I like to think that this shepherd knows of any struggles or successes surrounding our lives and mediates through our prayers and interactions with family and friends. That’s both vertical and horizontal. If I’m placing a border around my heavenly shepherd, that’s just me.
I think the most intimate identification with this Shepherd Jesus is parenting. All of human emotions can be exercised in the family home – whether with one child or five. Sometimes all expressed in one hour. Now that’s shepherding the flock. For the rest of us those emotions guide us through our own personal feelings and those we love and care for. In other words, we can all be shepherds to others and to ourselves.
Now that gentleness and tenderness can return to our reflection today. Did you know that the shepherd can become a sheep, a lamb? It’s named for you when I raise the host and say, “Behold the Lamb of God.” Did you also know that God can become one of us? Yes, it’s true. Outside the realm of faith, we’d call it a Disney movie. “Cute to watch” on DVD and placed back on the shelve. In a real faith filled life, however, it is the completion of mission of Jesus. The physical union between the Creator and created.
Whether verb or adjective, it is completed in our own lives through shepherding those in trying times and being one in both work and friendships. I don’t think hitting a sheep or using caustic words brings about a change of behavior. It only separates what been divinely united by the God of creation, the Shepherd carrying each of us gently and lovingly around his neck and all bundled together with the grace and support of the Holy Spirit.
I think that makes us a pretty good flock of followers. Union? Body of Christ? Community? I leave you with the question, what’s the plural of sheep?