|Henry Ossawa Tanner The Good Shepherd (1903)|
The three passages all have a slightly different emphasis. Verses 11-18 provide the reading in Year B (this year). In these verses Jesus dwells on the contrast between a shepherd tending his own sheep, and a hired hand who is merely looking after some else’s. When danger threatens the flock, the hired hand flees; the true shepherd stays to defend them – even to the point of ‘laying down his life’.
|Good Shepherd mosaic|
This is certainly an exaggeration. Even the most devoted shepherds are unlikely to die in defense of their sheep? Hyperbole of this kind is characteristic of Middle Eastern story telling, but it serves to make a powerful point. Applied to Jesus, the image of the 'good shepherd' most importantly draws our attention not just to the Crucifixion, but to the Resurrection. On the cross, Jesus hangs in complete isolation, abandoned by his followers. Fear and faithlessness has led every one of his 'sheep' to scatter. He is left alone, crushed by pain and surrounded by hatred.
The Epistle draws the obvious moral lesson – ‘We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us . . . How does God's love abide in anyone who has the world's goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action’. The love embodied in the Risen Christ returning to gather his sheep together again both demands and inspires this response.