The Good Shepherd
“Shepherd” is one of the images used by St. John Paul II in his teaching on priesthood. Using the Scriptures and Fathers of the Church, he talks about the priest as head, shepherd, and bridegroom, because these are relationships that Jesus has to the Church.
In this Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus describes himself as the Good Shepherd, ho Poimen ho kalos in Greek. The word choice is interesting, because Ancient Greek had two different adjectives meaning “good” – agathos, meaning morally good, giving satisfaction, or beneficial, and kalos, meaning what is intrinsically good, virtuous, and true. By identifying Jesus as the kalos Shepherd, the Gospel of John indicates that he isn’t merely an effective leader, someone who is good at herding and gets the job done, but that being Shepherd is part of his being. He is the True Shepherd; unlike the hirelings who leave the sheep and flee when danger comes, it is not in his nature to be anything other than Shepherd who gives up his life for the sheep (John 10:11).
Shepherd is an important way that the Church understands Jesus throughout the Scriptures. There are several passages that refer to Jesus as a shepherd in the New Testament, such as the parables of the lost sheep (Luke 15:3-7; Matthew 18:12-14) and more direct statements about Jesus, the shepherd and overseer of your souls (1 Peter 2:25) and the Good Shepherd (John 10).
In addition to understanding how Jesus relates to us, shepherd has also been an important way for the Church to understand the participation that the ministers of the Church share in Jesus’ ministry. Just as Jesus is the one Priest who offers acceptable sacrifice to the Father, he is also the one Shepherd who cares for his people. Yet he has chosen to share this office of service with others. The bishops and priests of the Church participate in Jesus’ care for his people and, while fully human, weak, and imperfect, Jesus gave the Church a guarantee that he guides us through the Pope, bishops, and priests, somehow using even our deficiencies to bring greater glory to God and show his own love for his people.