“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” (John 10:11).
Sheep and shepherds are not really familiar images to most of us, but to the ancient audience to whom Jesus first spoke these words, they were highly familiar images.
People knew how valuable sheep were to the shepherd, so Jesus uses shepherding imagery to communicate how precious people are to God, and how God feels when they go astray and suffer.
The Bible offers no guarantee of an easy life. Psalm 23 describes a journey through the valley of the shadow of death. Death indeed casts a long shadow over us as we move through life, but the gospel says that we are not moving alone.
Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd, who died and rose for us, is moving us through the dark valley to the promised land. We must listen to his guiding voice, for as we move, other voices speak to us as well - voices of criticism and voices of despair telling us that we are unholy, unworthy, that God is distant, angry, and out to get us.
These are the words of God’s enemy, whose mission it is to harvest hopeless and despair, resignation, and apathy. We must not heed such pernicious words.
In times of temptation and trouble hear and listen instead to the Holy One who speaks these words: “Do not fear for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.” (Isaiah 43: 1-3).