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For Your Weekend: What the Good in “Good Shepherd” Really Means

Jeannine Yousif

Dig Deeper into Sunday’s Gospel: Read John 10:11–18

If I were to ask you to think back to your childhood and recall one of the first images that you had of Jesus, I’m certain the Good Shepherd would be among the most common. Can’t we all bring to mind the statue or image of Jesus holding a staff with one hand, a lamb draped over His shoulders? 

This week’s gospel passage from John 10:11–18 harkens us back to this image of our Lord as a sweet and passive man surrounded by the fluffiest of sheep. And while, for children, this is a beautiful first impression of our Lord—as a loving protector and gentle guide—the true image of a good shepherd in the time of Jesus is far messier, bloodier, and dangerous.

The Greek word for good used in this passage, kalos, means excellent in its nature and characteristics, noble, honorable, ideal.[1] Jesus is not just a good shepherd; He is the Good Shepherd, the perfect shepherd, the ideal shepherd. A “good” shepherd at the time of Jesus was something different than the saccharine depiction we might be familiar with today. 

A good shepherd was committed entirely to his flock. He knew each of his sheep well—was aware of their temperaments, their quirks, their strengths, and their weaknesses. He anticipated their needs and provided for them. He understood how to comfort each one if they fell ill or were injured and attended to them until they were well enough to continue the journey. The shepherd was hypervigilant to anything that might be a danger or distraction. He was fearless, brave, and protective, using his own body as a shield against the rushing attack of a hungry predator, willing to sacrifice his own life and die with his flock rather than flee and abandon them. 

Can we really trust Jesus the Good Shepherd is that good

Or maybe the question we should be asking is: Can we really trust that we are good enough for His ideal protection, His excellent provision, and His perfect love?

I’m afraid so many of us have been led astray or abandoned in the wilderness by shepherds who didn’t quite understand their job description. Who, like Jesus noted in the gospel, may have acted like “a hired man…whose sheep are not his own, [who] sees a wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away, and the wolf catches and scatters them” (John 10:12). The wounds left by those specifically entrusted to be good to us distort our image of goodness making it difficult to recognize, trust, and fully receive the gift that Jesus as Good Shepherd is to us. 

So often, trusting in the goodness of God can feel too risky, too vulnerable. And to guard against those all too familiar feelings of disappointment, rejection, and being forgotten or overlooked, we build a wall around our hearts. We remain a safe distance away, doubting our inherent dignity and worth. We disqualify ourselves from being a member of His flock, from being fully known by Him. 

But that was never the plan. The Lord doesn’t want us separated by walls, distance, or sin. He created us, and He called us good (Genesis 1:31). After the Fall, “we had lost the possession of the good; it was necessary for it to be given back to us.”[2] God so desires us to be reconciled to Him, to remember who we are and whose we are, that He sent His only Son so that we would not perish (John 3:16). 

God the Father sent His Son, the Good Shepherd, to rescue His lost lambs, to restore them to His flock, to His family, to make a final stand, and to endure the final battle with the enemy, who “prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).

Jesus isn’t just a sweet, gentle guy who tends to some sheep and cuddles with lambs. Yes, He is sweet and gentle. But He is also so much more. We can’t trust that which we do not know, so if you find this passage challenging, let’s turn to the truth of Scripture and discover the goodness of our Good Shepherd.  

  • He knows us intimately—the good parts and the bad parts. There is nothing we could ever do or say to make Him love us anymore or any less. We are fully known by Him (John 10:14). He is tender and attuned to our every need (Isaiah 40:11). 
  • We belong to Him. We belong to His family. He has called us by name, and we are His (John 10:3, Isaiah 43:2). We can trust in His character and in His goodness. “Know that the Lord, He is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture” (Psalm 100:3). 
  • Jesus is fiercely protective of us. We are safe in His hands. Jesus gives us “eternal life, and [we] will never perish. No one will snatch [us] out of [His] hand” (John 10:28). He searches for us when we are lost and rejoices when we are found (Matthew 18:13).
  • Jesus loves us with a radical abandonment to Himself. He chose willingly to lay down His life to save us (John 10:18). In righteous anger at the prospect of spending an eternity without us, His creation, and in pure obedience to the Father, Jesus stepped into the chasm between us and the enemy. Like a good shepherd, He chose to jump in front of the predator, defend us, and rescue us. He chose to die so that we can live in freedom. He saved us from the kingdom of death and transferred us into His kingdom of light (Colossians 1:13). 

My friend, this is the reality of who the Good Shepherd is. He pursues your heart. He’s not afraid to step into the muck and mire of our lives, to execute a dangerous rescue mission, get bloodied and bruised, or to lose His life. 

Because to Him, you are worth everything. 

There’s no shadow [He] won’t light up, No mountain [He] won’t climb up…No wall [He] won’t kick down. No lie [He] won’t tear down, Coming after me.”[3]

With you on the journey and in the flock,
Jeannine

Food for thought or journaling:

How do you need Jesus, our Good Shepherd, to show up for you today? Do you need Him to lead you to still waters, to comfort you? Do you need His guidance to choose the right path? Do you need His gentle assurances to return to the flock? Do you need Him to run a rescue mission into the wilderness to save you?

Make the words of Psalm 23 your own: Jesus, You are my Good Shepherd. With You, I have all that I need. I trust that with Your guidance and direction, You will keep me on the path of righteousness. I fear no evil when I am with You, Jesus. Even walking in the darkness, I know that You are with me. Your rod and Your staff comfort me. In Your presence, goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life. You have chosen me to dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long. Amen (Psalm 23:1–4,6).

[1] “John 10:11,” Bible Hub (10 April 2024): https://biblehub.com/john/10-11.htm#lexicon.
[2] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd edition (Vatican: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2012), #457.
[3] Cory Asbury, “Reckless Love,” Reckless Love (Genius 2017): https://genius.com/Cory-asbury-reckless-love-lyrics.

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