Belfast Telegraph

Thought for the weekend: The shepherd of the flock

By Fr Patrick McCafferty

This particular Sunday, the fourth in Eastertide, the Gospel read at Mass and at many other services of divine worship, presents Jesus under His well-known and beloved title of 'the Good Shepherd'.

The Hebrew scriptures on a number of occasions describe God as 'the Shepherd of Israel' (Ps 80:1).

God, as Shepherd, guards, leads and cares for God's people.

God defends them against corrupt and violent pseudo-shepherds, dismissing them from office and undertaking their role Himself: 'I myself will shepherd them', says the Lord God (Cf. Ezekiel Ch. 34).

The Christian scriptures add a new, more profound, dimension to God's shepherding of His people when Jesus says: "I am the Good Shepherd ... The Good Shepherd lays down His life for His flock" (John 10:11).

Jesus, the true Shepherd, identifies completely with the 'sheep' in coming to us as 'the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world' (John 1:29).

The shepherds with whom Jesus's listeners would have been familiar were leaders – not drivers – of their sheep. Their flocks were small and they knew each of the sheep well, knowing immediately if one was missing. The sheep knew the voice of their shepherd and responded to it.

When they were penned in enclosure for the night, the shepherd guarded the gateway to the sheepfold with his own body, to ward off predators.

How fitting it is that our Lord describes Himself as 'the Shepherd of the Flock', He who placed His very own self in the jaws of death, so that the prophet's word would come to pass: 'Death, I shall be your death! Hell, I shall grip you fast!' (Hosea 13:14).

These words would, in time, be re-echoed by Saint Paul: 'Death, where is your sting, where is your victory?' (I Cor. 15:55).

Thanks be to God for giving us the victory through Our Lord Jesus Christ! Our Shepherd leads us into the pastures where are found 'life in abundance' (John 10:10).

He says to us: "Arise, my beloved and come!" (Songs 2:10).

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