The Bible characterizes kings as shepherds of their people. It even considers God and Messiah also as shepherds and people as their sheep (Ezek 34:1-10). In Psalm 23:1, David says, “The Lord is my shepherd.”
SHEPHERDS IN BETHLEHEM
Bethlehem, being close to Jerusalem, was a sheep rearing area for sacrifices in the Temple. Besides the sacrifice of lambs in the Temple on the feast days, the priests sacrificed an unblemished lamb every morning and evening. Angels invited the shepherds and their sacrificial lambs when the divine shepherd, the last lamb of sacrifice, was born.
David was also a shepherd boy at the same location when Samuel anointed him as the future King of Israel. Jesus, the “Son of David” and the promised eternal king of the universe, was born in David’s native place.
The birth announcement of the Messiah did not happen to the High Priest or King Herod, but to the humble shepherds who were of low social and religious status. The orthodox people despised the shepherds because they could not keep the religious laws and rituals. In the Canticle of Mary, she sings: “He has put down the mighty from their thrones and lifted up the lowly” (Lk 1:52). The stalwarts of the Old Testament like Abel, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and Moses were also shepherds.
THE GOOD SHEPHERD
The “good” here stands for the shepherd’s commitment to the sheep distinct from regular shepherds. Jesus exemplified the goodness of a shepherd by stating that he “lays down his life for the sheep” (Jn 10:11). A typical example is that of David who told King Saul when he was questioned on his ability to attack the giant Goliath: “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).
All Christians have a share in the kingship or servant leadership role of Jesus. Hence, those who are in Christian leadership, whether in the family, church, society, have to be good shepherds sacrificing their life for the betterment of the people entrusted to 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).