As a child, one of my favorite images of Christ was this one…
I loved animals (still do) and to me, this image of Jesus gently holding a little lamb was so sweet and gentle. I liked to think of him this way when I was young, because thinking of him on the cross was too scary and I didn’t understand what it meant. I had a picture similar to this one in my room and it just always looked so inviting, like you could walk right into it.
Yesterday, Jim and I watched the Mass from Saint Meinrad Archabbey. Fr. Guerric was giving the message and WOW! Was it a good one! He began by saying that the Gospel reading, John 10:1-10, seemed out of place. Starting with the first Sunday in Lent until the journey to Emmaus until last Sunday, the readings had centered around the “power of Christ’s life intermingled with our discipleship”. Fr. Guerric described Christ as the Good Shepherd, depicted like the above picture, as having been “over sentimentalized”. The image doesn’t fully capture the rest of the scene being played out in this passage.
The rest of the story, so to speak, is one of evil voices calling out, to distract us from the Shepherd’s voice. One that would “climb the wall rather than using the gate, to bring violence and scatter the flock.” None of that appears in the peaceful image above…or the one that I carried in my mind as a child. But that evil is real and Fr. Guerric did not leave us with that docile image of Christ for long.
He told the story of how he came to have a new image of the shepherd. A few years ago, one of the seminarians, from Kenya, described what an African shepherd from his region looked like. The shepherds wore red to keep the wolves away and stood between them and the sheep, as a warning sign, as if to say, “these are mine.” He will do everything he can to protect the flock. Imagine the shepherd, on the hot dusty plains, red cloak flapping in the wind, standing between the wolves and his flock.
It would appear that the shepherd wears the red of Good Friday. The servant leader, dressed in blood red, that gives his life for his people. This image of Jesus is one of a shepherd, not only leading his flock to safety, but to salvation.
It reminds me of the first time I read the book This Present Darkness by Frank Perretti. The book reveals a “behind the scenes” look at the spiritual battle that is being played out every day. But instead of the cute, plump, baby looking angels that are so often depicted, Perretti paints an image of warrior angels, their hair long and flowing, muscles rippling and swords at ready.
(Here is my disclaimer: This Present Darkness is a work of fiction.)
I don’t know about you…but that’s the kind of angel I want fighting for me.
But in both cases, it’s a good reminder that we are all under attack spiritually and need to remain ever vigilant, lest we listen to the voices that lure us away from the Good Shepherd. False prophets like Jim Jones and David Koresh rise up in every generation. It’s important to be able to recognize Jesus’ voice amidst the noise of today’s busy world.
And I’m still a big fan of the image of Christ as the gentle shepherd. He’s already defeated death. He’s already secured the victory. Whether he comes in a whisper or with a host of heavenly angels, as long as he coming for me, I’m at peace.
The song, The Voice of Truth, is one of my favorites, so I’ll leave you a link to the video below.
Jesus, we thank you that you are the Good Shepherd, a mighty force to keep the wolves away and gentle and loving to care for your flock. Help us to listen for your voice, so that we may follow you as you lead us to safety and salvation. Amen.