In the Christian calendar, we are in the session of Easter. During this time, our readings tell us about the resurrection. These readings tell us that Jesus’ resurrection means that God is always with us.
In one of these readings, Jesus explains this using the metaphor of a ‘good shepherd’.
“The good shepherd,” Jesus says to his disciples, “lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away… I am the good shepherd… I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice…” (Jn. 10:11-16)
The image of Jesus as the ‘Good Shepherd’ has always been a favourite image for Christians. Through this image we are able to identify why we find comfort and love in our relationship with Jesus. We trust that when we are lost, when we are afraid, he comes searching for us. We trust that he will never abandon us. In a famous ‘Good Shepherd’ hymn by John Rutter we sing, “The King of love my Shepherd is, whose goodness faileth never; I nothing lack if I am his and he is mine for ever.”
In the image of the ‘Good Shepherd’ we discover that God is patient and kind, and stays by our side no matter what happens. John tells us in the first chapter of his Gospel that “all who received Jesus, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God.” (Jn. 1:12) The Good Shepherd lets us know that we belong to God and that we are loved by God.
I find that many people struggle with this truth. Although we can intellectually know that we are saved through Jesus’ resurrection, it’s not something we are always comfortable with. In the above excerpt, Jesus tells us that sometimes a wolf tries to harm the flock. This wolf symbolizes anything which prevents us from knowing and trusting God – from becoming children of God. Wolves come in many forms: loneliness, fear, hurt, sadness, etc.
Many of my parishioners know that I struggle with anxiety. In those anxious moments, one negative thought leads to another and I get stuck in a negative thought loop. In these moments, it's easy for me to convince myself I am alone. I become one of the ‘lost sheep’.
But, Jesus promises that he will find us. I believe that Jesus worked through my friends, family, doctor, spiritual directors, and counsellors who have helped me over the years. They helped me develop techniques to cope with my anxiety and live a healthier life.
As the Good Shepherd Jesus reminds us that God is with us and loves us. Whenever we are in need, God finds us and brings us home.