If you were asked to name the top ten most exciting occupations a person could have, being a shepherd would probably not be on the list. Perhaps the idea of wandering around all day trying to manage a bunch of smelly sheep does not seem very exciting. In the Gospel, when Jesus says he is the good shepherd and then goes on to describe what that means, this clearly is much more than the seemingly mundane role of managing sheep (John 10:11-18). As it turns out, the good shepherd that Jesus describes is really a very exciting person.
Jesus, the Good Shepherd, laid down his life for us. He did not risk his life, he gave it. He put what he might have wanted aside and took the risk of sacrificing himself hoping that it would matter. This shepherd knows his sheep and the sheep know him. Jesus wants a relationship with us. He does not want to stay at a distance. He wants to truly know us and for us to know him, even at the risk that we might not understand him or reject him. This shepherd has sheep that are not of his fold. The world of Jesus is a big one. He is willing to go beyond a circle of comfortable relationships and include those with whom he is less familiar with all the awkwardness and even messiness involved in such an outreach.
This Good Shepherd shows us how we can do some exciting things in our lives. Like making sacrifices, giving up what we might want to do in order to be present to someone else. Giving up some time on the cell phone, in front of the computer or the television to spend time with our spouse, our children, our friends. Sacrificing the purchase of something for ourselves and using the money to support work that serves the poor. Taking the risk of truly letting others know us, even though we may be misunderstood or rejected. Breaking out of the confines of our circle of comfortable relationships and opening our hearts and minds to those that are not so easy for us easy to include.
Serene pastures and bucolic landscapes are not the world of the Good Shepherd. This shepherd, in the image of Pope Francis, smelled like the sheep because he was right in the midst of all the complexity and untidiness of our humanity. That is what brought new life. That is what brings new life. That is exciting.