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Jesus the Good Shepherd


Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (Jn 10:11). The “good,” here stands for the shepherd’s commitment for the sheep distinct from normal shepherds. Jesus exemplifies the goodness of a shepherd by stating that he “lays down his life for the sheep.” A typical example is David. When King Saul asked David on his ability to attack the giant Goliath, he said: “Your servant used to tend his father’s sheep, and whenever a lion or bear came to carry off a sheep from the flock, I would chase after it, attack it, and snatch the prey from its mouth. If it attacked me, I would seize it by the throat, strike it, and kill it. Your servant has killed both a lion and a bear” (1 Sam 17:34-36).


The Old Testament presents God as the shepherd of his flock, Israel. Psalm 23:1-4 is a typical example: “The LORD is my shepherd; there is nothing I lack. In green pastures he makes me lie down; to still waters he leads me; he restores my soul. He guides me along right paths for the sake of his name. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff comfort me.”


Jesus proved his credentials as a ‘good shepherd’ by sacrificing his life for us (1 Jn 3:16; Jn 15:13). Jesus said that the Son of Man came “to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mt 20:28). Unlike the accidental death of a shepherd while fighting with the wolf, Jesus came to rescue us with his death. It was a wilful and voluntary decision of Jesus and his Father for the sake of God’s sheep. His death was the substitute sacrifice of Isaac, the son of Abraham, and a replacement of the imperfect animal sacrifices in the Temple of Jerusalem.


Jesus distinguishes a true shepherd from a hireling. Unlike the true shepherd who is personally invested in the sheep, a person who works for pay will not risk his life to rescue the sheep from the attack of wild animals or thieves. Jesus explains the lack of motivation of the hired man in the double phrase that follows: “not a shepherd” and “sheep are not his own.” Jesus is not like a hireling. He has a personal stake in us, entrusted to him by his Father. He knew that he would have to suffer and die to save us. Still, he volunteered to take up the task and rescued us.

The distinction between the true shepherd and the hired person starkly comes out when the threat looms. The shepherd who loves his sheep risks his life; whereas the hireling flees for his own safety, leaving the sheep to their fate. The Pharisees and other religious leaders during the public ministry of Jesus were typical hirelings, who were invested in their own skins rather than the people’s salvation. They were not at all concerned about people’s spiritual welfare. Jesus, out of his love for us, could not leave us in the cesspit of sin. So, he rescued us by the sheer sacrifice of his life.

Jesus presented the false prophets like ravenous wolves who come in sheep’s clothing (Mt 7:15). Here, Satan is the wolf who comes in the attire of a prophet. Jesus depicts those who persecute his disciples as wolves. “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves” (Mt 10:16; Lk 10:3). Satan challenges Christians and preachers of Jesus through the church’s persecutors. Saint Paul used the same metaphor of wolves for false teachers. “I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock” (Acts 20:29).

The evil spirit is at work against the Christians and the Church, through teachers who misguide their listeners. The wolf’s catching and scattering show how the hostile powers crush Christ’s followers. The shepherd should be vigilant and risk himself to save the sheep from Satan. The missionaries continue this advice of Jesus. Even when the persecutors threaten their lives, they stay with the Christians to protect them and to continue their mission.


This shepherd has a personal relationship with his flock. He names each of his sheep and leads them, calling them by their names (Jn 10:3). The sheep know the shepherd, trust him, and go with him. The shepherd and his sheep know and love each other. Hence, the good shepherd protects his sheep out of his love for them rather than as his property or source of income.

Jesus compared his knowledge and love for his sheep similar to his relationship with the Father. The Father knows and loves his son, Jesus. He did send his son to rescue humanity. Jesus also knows and loves us. He expressed his great love towards us by even laying down his life for us. That proves he is a good shepherd.


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