I remember in many of my old classrooms there was that picture of Jesus with a lamb on his shoulders on the back wall. After a while I didn't really see it anymore. It was just a pleasant portrait on the back wall of our room. It was and is such a comforting image. Jesus, leaving behind the 99 to find the lost sheep, maybe that sheep was me.
Unfortunately, that placement and purpose is the exact opposite of the way this image functions in the Gospel of John that we will hear this weekend. It was meant to be at the forefront of readers' minds and it was not just intended to comfort. A really smart person told me one time to not confuse familiarity with understanding. That warning came to mind this time when I read and reflected on the passage about Jesus as Good Shepherd. It turns out that the Good Shepherd is not an image intended to comfort children. It is an image intended to inspire the faith of adults in difficult times. It is an image meant to counter forces that would isolate them from each other and undermine their faith in Christ.
Now, I don't want to be a fire and brimstone type person, but, let's think about it. The sheep faced many dangers in their existence. The one constant that connects all of those dangers is that the sheep were away from their shepherd. We are taught that the sheep know their shepherd's voice, but, do I? I think that if we all really think about it we will admit that we like the comfortable, heart warming Shepherd that is pictured so often. I think that we are challenged by the Shepherd who vows to separate the sheep from the goats. I think it is east to believe that the Good Shepherd will care for his flock, especially all of the different kinds of "lost" sheep that we see everyday in our lives. It isn't quite as easy to believe that we are called to be the coworkers with the Shepherd.
In the end, it is often worth an evaluation of our own faith and conscience to make sure we are not anchored in a comfortable and unrealistic familiarity, but, rather continue to challenge ourselves to dig deep for a true understanding. Easy? Not at all. But, either is being a shepherd.