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Monday, May 5, 2014

Christ as the Good Shepherd

This Sunday is unofficially known as "Good Shepherd" Sunday.  Each year on the Fourth Sunday of Easter we get a reading from the 10th Chapter of John.  The image of Jesus as the good shepherd is one of the oldest known in the Christian church.  It was particularly useful because in a time of persecution a statue of a shepherd carrying a lamb or ram would not have raised suspicion.  It was a known pagan image as well (see the pagan idea of criophorus or the Ram Beaer).   And of course we can also connect the image of the Shepherd to the Old Testament as well, where often this was an image used for God and also for the kings and leaders who were called to care for God's flock.  It is probably no accident that David was out keeping the flock when Samuel came to look for the new king to be anointed.    Or reading for this Sunday makes the most sense when we see it as a continuation of John 9--the story of the man born blind.  This poor man, whom you would think would have been blessed beyond believe by having his sight restored is instead offered one hardship after another.  He's given a "Sabbath Violation" ticket by the authorities, his friends don't recognize him, his family distances themselves from him, and he is kicked out of the synagogue--accused of being a sinner!   In answer to this story, Jesus tells the three Good Shepherd vignettes in John 10.   He is the one who cares for the sheep (not the leaders of the day) and he is the one whose motivation is entirely at work on behalf of the sheep, not the institution or some inaccurate sense of who belongs and who doesn't.  He is the Good Shepherd who knows you by name!  You!  With all your complexities, doubts, insecurities, triumphs and joys.  He knows your name and you know his voice!  Listen for it!   

Below, a great brown pencil sketch by Murillo.  Look at the Child Christ walking firmly and purposely forward.  Even as a child he knows for that which he has been called.  The sheep over his shoulder keeping his eyes on the Christ, the sheep's body is relaxed and you get the impression that the child is truly carrying the entire weight of the animal.  Now look at the Child Christ.  He eyes are on the look out; but for who and for what?  Is he searching for those who would endanger the sheep in his care (John 9) or perhaps he is looking for his other sheep--us--and compelling us to allow him to carry us as well.   It's a great sketch from a brilliant artist.  Peace! pj
Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, the Christ Child as the Good Shepherd, 1680

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