The Shepherd who Lays Down His Life

From today’s Gospel:

Jesus said:
“I am the good shepherd.
A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
A hired man, who is not a shepherd
and whose sheep are not his own,
sees a wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away,
and the wolf catches and scatters them.
This is because he works for pay and has no concern for the sheep.
I am the good shepherd,
and I know mine and mine know me,
just as the Father knows me and I know the Father;
and I will lay down my life for the sheep.
I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold.
These also I must lead, and they will hear my voice,
and there will be one flock, one shepherd.
This is why the Father loves me,
because I lay down my life in order to take it up again.
No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own.
I have power to lay it down, and power to take it up again.
This command I have received from my Father.”

I once read a silly short story wherein a bishop told an irritating little boy that the shepherd’s crook is for attacking enemies of the sheep– never for hitting sheep, but for hitting wolves who came to eat the sheep. So in his office of bishop, he never attacked his flock but only enemies of the Church.

I am not a shepherd, but I’m fairly sure that’s not correct. The shepherd’s crook is, at least primarily, not for striking wolves. It’s for pulling sheep out of danger. How that changes the way the role of a bishop is viewed is a topic for another day. But in any case, this is the primary job of a shepherd: not to be a warrior. Not to hit things with sticks. Shepherds will fight it out with wild beasts or thieves if they have to, but it’s not their main calling. Shepherds are people who keep sheep out of danger.

So is Christ.

Christ came to take the throne of His ancestor, David. And what did David do? David was a shepherd, and a man after God’s own heart. He protected the sheep, with his slingshot, and he kept them out of danger. While he was yet nothing but a shepherd, the Lord sent a prophet to anoint him king. But it was a long time, a great deal of suffering and bloodshed, before that prophecy was fulfilled. Somewhere along the line David became a warrior, not a shepherd anymore, and then he was crowned king. And then? Oh, he did all sorts of things that warrior kings do. Some heroic, some beautiful, some commonplace, some breathtakingly stupid. He was such a terrible father that the whole kingdom was driven into revolt; such a lustful man that he had a faithful soldier murdered to cover up his indiscretions. He took a census that ended up causing a plague. And he always repented, and his repentance was sincere, and God kept His end of the bargain– He raised up a house for David that would last forever.

Christ the Son of David is King; He also remains forever Good Shepherd, the shepherd who will not lose a single lamb His father has given Him. But Christ is not a warrior, not in that way. If a wolf, a bad person who’s against the Faith, comes to scatter the flock, what does Christ do? He doesn’t throw stones like David. He doesn’t beat the wolf with His crosier the way the bishop in that story did. Instead, He lays down His own life. He himself becomes a lamb, the most helpless and passive of lambs,  and lays down His life before the wolf. He does this for the love of the flock, and also for the love of the wolf.

Because that wolf just might turn out to be another lamb in need of a shepherd, and we will all become one flock.

That’s terribly annoying, I know. Most days I’d like it better if Jesus brandished his shepherd’s crook like a cudgel and started smacking everyone I think of as an enemy of the Faith. But He doesn’t. He lays down His life– for us and for them. So that they might see Him, and be converted. So that we all might partake of the paschal Lamb together, and be one flesh with God and with one another. So that as God became Man and the Man laid down His life to become a Lamb, so we will truly become human and more than human, one with God in Heaven.

And this is mercy to me because often enough I’m the wolf. So are you. We all have our turn being the wolf. We’ve all been that terrible wicked person that threatens to drive lambs away from the Good Shepherd with our blatant lack of charity. We’ve probably done so today without realizing. Every time we were cruel when we ought to have been merciful; every time we were vindictive when we ought to have forgiven; every time we mistook a shepherd’s crook for a cudgel and tried to beat somebody with it.

Every time this happens, the Good Shepherd will lay down His life for us. If we wish, we may enter into that Life, and become lambs again.

(image via Pixabay) 

 

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