"I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep."
Father Matta El-Meskeen (Matthew the Poor)
‘The Good Shepherd’ is a title Christ loves. Thousands of institutions have been
established with the name ‘The Good Shepherd;’ schools, monasteries, orphanages and
universities. Shepherds are either hired or the owners of the sheep. The good shepherd
owns his sheep, and most of them were born under his care, so the sheep know him and
follow him. He leads them to good pastures and at the end of the day gathers them
together into his pen.
It is the nature of the good shepherd to defend his sheep against carnivorous animals
such as wolves. Such defense poses a danger to his own life, yet because he is the
owner of the sheep, he sacrifices his own life and gives himself for the sheep, which
means he defends them to the death. In this we come to the mystery of the story and the
mystery of Christ, because self-sacrifice is the greatest act, and the normal shepherd
would not dare do it even if he is the owner of the sheep!!
Here Christ reveals that the mystery of his cross really is self sacrifice, not only for
the good sheep but also the bad. So in everything the cross always accompanied Christ,
because it was for the cross that he came down from heaven, indeed, his birth and life
were for the cross. The cross was the greatest of the works of Christ, and not just Christ
because the cross is what makes any king, president and leader great. The Gospel notes the difficulty of the cross. For the sake of a righteous or good man, it says, a man may
be willing to sacrifice himself,1 but the strength of the meaning of the cross is centered
in a man who sacrifices himself for sinners and sinners alone.2 We do not hear of a king
or president or leader who sacrifices himself for robbers and thieves.
Concealed in this are the greatest secrets of the cross, for Christ knew and was even
joyful that he was to be crucified. Thus, it says that Christ “for the joy set before him
endured the cross.”3 In what was the joy? It was the joy of the Father who accepted the
obedience of the Son to his will, and the joy of Christ who fulfilled obedience to the
Father “to death—even death on a cross,”4 and also the joy of all sinners on earth when
the truth of Christ and the cross is revealed to them, in whom is their salvation and their
Christ describes himself as good for he is the source of good for all sinners on earth.
Only by Christ and his cross does man obtain whatever goodness is desired. Christ’s
definition of himself as good is a hidden indication that he himself is God, because
Christ himself answered the one who addressed him as good by saying, “Why do you
ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good.”5
One of the basic and very good qualities of the shepherd is that when the sheep in the
pen sleep he stays awake watching over them. His eyes do not close, watching right and
left for any wolf creeping up to carry away the sheep.
Among the stories about the Prophet David, who was a good shepherd, is that he
once saw a bear and lion come to the flock to kill them, and he took his special fighting
staff and ran behind the bear and snatched the sheep from its mouth. When he got to the
lion he was able to overpower it, he grabbed its mouth and tore its jaw in two and saved
the sheep from between its teeth.6 This is a glimpse among glimpses into the Good
July 23, 2005
1 Romans 5:7.
2 See Romans 7:5-8.
3 Hebrews 12:2.
4 Philippians 2:8.
5 Matthew 19:17.
6 Cf 1Sam 17:34-36.
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