The Goodness of the Good Shepherd by Rev. Jerome A. Magat
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
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John wrote to show that Christ was
the Messiah, the Divine Son of God.
Jesus said: "Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever does not enter a sheepfold through the gate but climbs over elsewhere is a thief and a robber. But whoever enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens it for him, and the sheep hear his voice, as the shepherd calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has driven out all his own, he walks ahead of them, and the sheep follow him, because they recognize his voice. But they will not follow a stranger; they will run away from him, because they do not recognize the voice of strangers," Although Jesus used this figure of speech, the Pharisees did not realize what he was trying to tell them.
So Jesus said again, "Amen, amen, I say to you , I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy; I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly."
Among the most ancient and revered images of Our Lord is that of the Good Shepherd. Ancient frescoes found in Roman ruins and in the catacombs often depict Jesus as the Good shepherd carrying a stray sheep on His shoulders back to the safety of the flock. It is helpful to understand this title, as Our Lord intended.
The Greeks have two words for "good": agathos and kalos. Agathos refers simply to the moral quality of a thing. Kalos refers to a certain quality in the goodness that makes it both moral and worthy of love. This later definition is what Our Lord used when describing Himself as the Good shepherd. It's akin to the meaning behind a description of a good physician: You might say that the "good doctor" in town can help. It means that the doctor is not only skilled but also compassionate and possessing a good bedside manner.
As for shepherds, these men were entirely responsible for their sheep. In the Book of Amos and the Book of Exodus there are descriptions of what shepherds had to prove to the sheep's owners if a single sheep was lost so that the shepherd himself could not be blamed for the mishap. In biblical times, there were two basic categories of shepherds: those born into the line of work and those who were hired hands who sought employment as a shepherd but were never really groomed to take on the responsibility that shepherds were expected to assume.
Good shepherds were born to do their work. As soon as they were old enough to assume the responsibilities of a shepherd, they were sent out with the sheep. Over time, the shepherds came to consider the sheep as if the sheep were their own flesh. Good shepherds would lay down their very lives if their sheep were in danger from thieves or wolves. Stories of good shepherds laying down their lives for their sheep were not uncommon in antiquity. Meanwhile, bad shepherds were those who were mere hirelings. They were not personally invested in the sheep and would just as soon abandon the sheep once trouble arose. They were highly unreliable and prone to neglect when it came to caring for the sheep.
In the Gospel passage, the flock described by Jesus refers to the Church. It is Christ's desire that shepherds after His own heart lead the Church. If the shepherd is good, his life is rooted in service and defense of the sheep from false teaching, neglect and any kind of evil. If the shepherd is bad, his life is rooted in careerism and an unwillingness to defend the sheep from false teaching and evil. Sadly, he may perpetrate evil upon the sheep himself. This is a double-edged sword of danger that the Church faces when Her shepherds do not fashion their lives after the heart of the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for His sheep. This is why it is absolutely imperative that the sheep pray for good shepherds to lead them. There is no replacement for good shepherds - shepherds who help their flock to interpret the landscape of the world in which they live and to nourish them with sound moral teaching and faithful celebration of the sacraments.
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