Many of Jesus’ disciples lived by farming, and they would know that the life of a shepherd is a tough one. The shepherd is out in all weathers, caring for the sheep, keeping them safe and bringing them back when they wander off. In Jesus’ time, a shepherd’s job could be dangerous, too – there were thieves and bandits who would not think twice about killing the shepherd and stealing the sheep. A hired man, working for money, would run off at the first sign of trouble. But if the shepherd was looking after his own sheep, he would know each one and would take good care of them. So, when Jesus tells the people that he is a ‘Good Shepherd,’ he means that he has a real love and care for them. He knows them by name, just as a good shepherd knows each one of his sheep; and the people know him, and trust him. Jesus’ love for his sheep will be proved when he gives up his life for them on the Cross.
Today, the 4th Sunday of Easter, is ‘Good Shepherd Sunday,’ when we pray for vocations to the priesthood. The Church needs priests who will be ‘good shepherds,’ caring for the people with the same love that Jesus showed. And we are all called to be shepherds who care for one another. Every person that we meet is a member of the Lord’s flock, known to Jesus and precious to him. Jesus wants us all to hear his voice, and to be gathered together into one flock. No one is disposable.