"I am the good shepherd."
This is one of those “I am” statements that Jesus makes in the gospel. Whenever he says one of these, we need to pay attention, because it is really important. These statements always say something about the fulfillment of prophecy regarding the promised messiah. They also say something about the very nature of God. Jesus is saying something really important here.
The prophets in the Old Testament talked about the shepherds of Israel, usually in judgment because of their weaknesses and sins. In an amazing passage from the book of the prophet Ezekiel, God addressed Israel with these words, “I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep.” So when Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd,” he referenced Ezekiel’s prophecy about God shepherding his people. Jesus made a bold statement about himself. Once again, he revealed his divinity to the people. Jesus is revealing who He is to us.
Jesus said something very important about why he is good. We all know that Jesus is good – but when we think about just how good Jesus is – how much he loves us – it is really amazing.
Right away Jesus said this – “a good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” Now, for those of us who have farms - my family raises cattle up in Spencer County - this statement is a little strange. Farmers know what it means to work the farm, and to make sacrifices so that the farm prospers. But when it comes to the cattle on the farm, most farmers would never go so far as to say they would lay their lives down for the livestock. In fact, the opposite is true. Most people think cows are delicious – we like hamburgers, steaks, pot roasts, any and all beef products. The cows lay down their lives for us.
Now, as much as we human beings think we are superior to cows, which we raise on our farms for beef, God is infinitely more superior to us. God is greater than anything we can imagine. And God, who became one of us in Jesus, just told us that he is the good shepherd, and that he would lay down his life for us. We celebrated that reality just a few weeks ago when we came to church on Good Friday and remembered how Jesus laid down his life for us on the cross.
What is amazing about this promise to us is that it didn’t happen just once on Good Friday some 2000 years ago. Remember Holy Thursday? That’s when Jesus took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to the disciples saying, “take this, all of you, and eat of it. For this is my body, which is given up for you.” Then he took the chalice and said, “take this all of you and drink from it, for this is the chalice of my blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant, which will be shed for you and for many, for the forgiveness of sins. Do this in memory of me.” What Jesus did for us on the cross 2000 years ago is made present for us again today in the Mass. Jesus the good shepherd lays down his life for us today. He feeds us with his body and blood, soul and divinity. His promise from the gospel today becomes present to us in each and every Mass. This is why it is so important to stay faithful to the Mass. Because when we are faithful to the Mass then we are faithful to Jesus the Good Shepherd. He loves us and he gives us his life.
Jesus said something else very important in the gospel today. He said this, “I am the good shepherd, and I know mine and mine know me.” That means that Jesus knows each and every single one of us very well. He loves us. Personally. Individually. He knows us – all about us. He knows our history. He knows our present. He knows our future. He loves us with the kind of love that made him willing to go to the cross for us. That’s why he also keeps telling us about himself. He wants us to know him very well. Personally. Individually. He wants us to be very close to him.
Let us all choose to stay close to Jesus our Good Shepherd.
Jesus the Good Shepherd said – “these also I must lead.” So let’s invite Jesus to lead us. I share with you a prayer I have prayed since I was a child. It goes more or less like this:
“Jesus I will do what you want me to do, go where you want me to go, and be what you want me to be. I am yours.” Jesus always leads us to be our very best selves. Let us not be afraid to give ourselves completely to him. Jesus, please lead us.
Jesus is our Good Shepherd. He leads us to the fullness of life, to the best of all possible joy and happiness. Let us give our lives to him today, especially in the Most Holy Eucharist. And let us follow him because he leads us to the life of joy that never ends.