Happy Mother’s Day and Happy Good Shepherd Sunday!
Moms (including stepmoms, Godmothers, care-givers, aunts who are like second moms, and all the other possible mom-like roles out there), what do you have in common with a shepherd, particularly a shepherd of the middle east, a couple of millennia ago? You might, understandably, think, “Not a thing,” but you’d be wrong.
Shepherds at the time of Jesus cared for their sheep in much the same way you have cared for your children. Seem odd? The similarities are there in the responsibilities that both mothers and shepherds share: to provide for, to guide, and to keep safe those in their charge, whether that means sheep or children (read Ps 23:1-4, written by King David who knew a lot about being a good shepherd)! One of my favorite descriptions of how well a shepherd would care for his flock is how he would lay down his body for their protection.
At night, when it was time to rest, the shepherd would gather his flock and herd them into a pen, sometimes an area with a low stone wall but usually a space that he had partitioned off using branches and bramble leaving one small space as a “gateway” for the sheep to enter. Once all of the sheep were safely inside, the shepherd would lay his body down across the opening. He would literally use his body as a door, keeping the sheep safely inside and keeping robbers and wild animals out. The shepherd would sacrifice his own body through loss of sleep and discomfort in order to protect and provide for the flock in his care. Sound familiar, moms?
The Good Shepherd goes even farther in His love and care for His stubborn and skittish flock (that’s us, by the way). Throughout chapter 10 of John, Jesus mentions four times (vs. 11, 15, 17, & 18) that He will lay down His life for His sheep. We understand that He meant laying His body down in death on the Cross, freely giving Himself for us. This gives deeper meaning to v. 7 when Jesus says, “I am the gate for the sheep,” and in v. 9 when He says, “I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved.” Remember, to be the gate into the pen was to lay down in the doorway to protect the sheep.
Also throughout John 10, not just the few verses of today’s Gospel, we read much about what it means to be a Good Shepherd and how Jesus is that which He describes. He talks about knowing His sheep and how His sheep know Him. Remember that the word “know” in Scripture is not about head knowledge, but about being in relationship with – to know someone is to be personally involved with them in intimate relationship, to be family. When Jesus says in verse 27 that, “My sheep hear my voice; I know them,” He is revealing that He and His sheep are in a deeply personal relationship with each other, they are family and they recognize each other. Then He goes on to say that nothing can take the sheep from Him and shows us that no matter what we do, He will never stop loving us and never stop offering us eternal life.
As a mom, it is comforting to know that as much as I love my children, Jesus loves them more. Although nothing they do or don’t do will ever make me stop loving them, He loves them to His death and resurrection, offering them eternal life through Himself. I may have had many sleepless nights when they were little, but He has laid Himself across the gateways of their hearts to protect them. The Good Shepherd has called them by name and nothing can ever take them from the Father’s hand.
Coordinator of Sacramental Preparation