"I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. A hired man, who is not the shepherd and whose sheep are not his own, sees a wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away, and the wolf catches and scatters them. This is because he works for pay and has no concern for the sheep.
I am the good shepherd, and I know mine and mine know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I will lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. These also I must lead, and they will hear my voice, and there will be one flock, one shepherd. This is why the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own. I have power to lay it down, and power to take it up again. This command I have received from my Father."
By using the image of a good shepherd, Jesus speaks of how He cares for His followers. He speaks of laying down His life for His sheep, something other hired men won't care enough to do. Jesus says He knows His sheep and His sheep know Him. He has a very special relationship with each member of His flock. He knows them each by name.
The symbolism of the Good Shepherd explains to us Jesus' magnificent love. Imagine a shepherd, giving his life to save his sheep; a man, voluntarily dying to save animals! Indeed, God's love is something very great. It's a mystery that only God, in His wisdom, can understand. It will leave us asking, "What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?" (Ps 8:4).
Yes, what are we that Jesus would lay down His life for us? Who are we that God would care to know our name? We are sinners, unworthy of God. Nevertheless, He loved us, so much so that He laid down his life for us.
Jesus also speaks about other sheep that are not yet into His fold. This symbolizes the universality of God's love. God loves everyone and treats us all as His children. Nevertheless, we are given the freedom to choose whether or not we will be His faithful sheep. Of course, even if we choose not to follow Him, we would still be His sheep, and our Shepherd will never stop calling His us into His fold.
The Good Shepherd is also an image of a perfect leader. We, too, have little flocks of which we are shepherds. We could be leading a small group, an organization, or maybe raising children, perhaps. The Good Shepherd should be our model of genuine love and concern for our flocks. Like Jesus, we are invited to be good shepherds, ready to sacrifice for our sheep, ready to help our neighbor even if we shall lose something for it, ready to love more even if it will hurt. We must follow Jesus' example.
Today's celebration invites us to heed the call of our Shepherd, for even if we walk through the dark valley, we will not fear, as long as we follow Jesus (cf. Ps 23:4). Like a shepherd leading his flock towards verdant pastures and restful waters, Jesus will surely lead us from this dark valley we call earth, to the repose of heaven (cf. v.3).
The Church also invites us today to pray that more young men follow Jesus and serve him, reflecting the goodness of the Shepherd in priestly ministry.
Like Jesus, may we be filled with ardent love for our neighbor and be shepherds of each other, helping one another and listening to the voice of the One Shepherd - Jesus.