As a child, one of my favorite pictures was that of a shepherd carrying a lamb on his shoulders. I remember thinking how great it would be to be a lamb and have someone carry me around like that. I wondered why he was being carried. Perhaps he was sick or injured, had strayed from the flock, or he was just tired.
While not an expert on the topic, I do know there are a few requirements for being a shepherd. The main qualification is fidelity to the flock. A shepherd must be willing to do anything to keep the flock together. The shepherd provides safety, food and water for his charges who could not make it on their own. The shepherd also has to become familiar to his sheep so they will follow his prodding and respond to the sound of his voice.
In the Gospel, Jesus calls himself a sheep gate and a shepherd (John 10:1-10). As I look out on the landscape of Orange County with its endless tracts of houses, buildings and freeways, it is difficult to imagine Jesus as a sheep gate or a shepherd. Then I think of my childhood picture and all the good feelings it evoked in me, and I begin to get a sense of what Jesus means. In all those houses, buildings, cars and trucks there are people. In the houses are people trying to raise their families with the special challenges of these times, others who wish they had a family, still others whose family seems to be falling apart. In the buildings are people working to provide for their family or support themselves. Many of those buildings or the offices in them are empty because people have lost their jobs or have been ordered to stay at home. In the vehicles are people with thousands of reasons for traveling, whether it be to go to work, to get home or just to get out for a drive, weary of being confined to home.
Those people are us. People who need care, guidance, safety and the loving concern and strong shoulders of One who cares. As the sheep gate, Jesus gives us access to the pastures of refreshment, peace, mercy and forgiveness. As the shepherd, he is the one that gave his life for us, that we might live. In the concrete, asphalt pastures of our world in so much pain these days, may we feel the comfort of the Good Shepherd who carries us on his shoulders to full life with him.
Together in faith,
Very Rev. Christopher H. Smith