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Domesticated sheep, unlike wild goats, rely heavily on a shepherd for their survival and protection. In Biblical times, sheep in Palestine roamed large, unfenced hilly areas, making them vulnerable to wild animals and thieves. Jesus highlighted the threat of thieves when He said, “Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever does not enter a sheepfold through the gate but climbs over elsewhere is a thief and a robber” (Jn 10:1). He also spoke of the danger from wild animals, stating, “A hired man, who is not a shepherd and whose sheep are not his own, sees a wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away, and the wolf catches and scatters them” (Jn 10:12).

Sheep need a shepherd’s guidance to stay safe. When they wander, they risk falling off cliffs or getting lost because they follow each other blindly. They are defenseless against predators and rely on fleeing for survival. If the lead sheep strays, the rest follow into danger. When scared, sheep scatter, becoming even more vulnerable. Shepherds prevent these dangers by guiding and protecting the flock. They lead the sheep to green pastures, still waters, and ensure their grooming, which is crucial to prevent the wool from becoming overgrown, dirty, and infested with parasites. Without shepherds, sheep are helpless. Jesus saw the people as sheep without shepherds.

Old Testament Context

In the Old Testament, Israel is depicted as God’s sheep, but their appointed shepherds were often unfaithful. Jeremiah relayed God’s message: “Lost sheep were my people, their shepherds misled them, leading them astray on the mountains; From mountain to hill they wandered, forgetting their fold. Whoever happened upon them devoured them” (Jer 50:6-7a). Similarly, Micaiah described Israel as “sheep without a shepherd” (1 Kgs 22:17; 2 Chr 18:16). During Jesus’ time, a similar scenario was present, necessitating the replacement of unfaithful shepherds with true ones to prevent the sheep from being lost or preyed upon.

Kings in the Bible are often referred to as shepherds of their people, with God and the Messiah also depicted as shepherds (Ezek 34:1-10). David, in Psalm 23:1, proclaims, “The LORD is my shepherd.”

Shepherds in Bethlehem

Bethlehem, near Jerusalem, was a center for raising sacrificial sheep for the Temple. Lambs were sacrificed every morning and evening, and during feasts. When Jesus, the divine shepherd and final sacrificial lamb, was born, angels announced His birth to humble shepherds.

David, the shepherd boy anointed by Samuel as Israel’s future king, hailed from Bethlehem. Jesus, the “Son of David” and eternal King, was born in this same town. The Messiah’s birth was revealed to shepherds, not to the high priest or King Herod, reflecting God’s favor towards the humble. Mary sang in her Canticle, “He has put down the mighty from their thrones and lifted up the lowly” (Lk 1:52). Prominent Old Testament figures like Abel, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and Moses were also shepherds.

The Good Shepherd

The “good” in “Good Shepherd” signifies the shepherd’s deep commitment to the sheep, as opposed to ordinary shepherds. Jesus illustrated this by saying He “lays down his life for the sheep” (Jn 10:11). David provided an example of this dedication when he recounted to King Saul his battles with lions and bears to protect his father’s sheep (1 Sam 17:34-36).

Just as the Israelites needed deliverance from Egyptian slavery, the people of Jesus’ time needed liberation from their burdens. God chose Moses and Aaron to lead the Israelites, and Jesus, seeing the people’s suffering, aimed to replace false shepherds with true leaders.


Christians share in Jesus’ kingship and servant leadership. Christian leaders, whether in the family, church, or society, must be good shepherds, willing to sacrifice for those in their care. Peter advised the presbyters: “Tend the flock of God in your midst, overseeing not by constraint but willingly, as God would have it, not for shameful profit but eagerly. Do not lord it over those assigned to you, but be examples to the flock” (1 Pet 5:2-3).

As Christians, we are called to follow the example of Jesus, the Good Shepherd. We must care for one another with love, patience, and self-sacrifice. Just as a shepherd diligently cares for his sheep, we are to watch over our brothers and sisters in Christ, guiding them with kindness and protecting them from spiritual harm. Our leadership, whether in the church, our families, or our communities, should reflect the heart of the Good Shepherd, always seeking the well-being of others above our own. Let us be diligent in our service, faithful in our responsibilities, and ever mindful of the great love with which Christ cares for each of us.

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