This Sunday is designated as “World Day of Prayer for Vocations” and so is known as “Good Shepherd Sunday” as the gospel for today speaks of Jesus calling himself “the good (or true, or model) shepherd.
Whether or not they had anything to do with sheep, Jewish people identified with the shepherd image in which their tradition was so deeply grounded. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were shepherds. Moses became a shepherd when he fled from Egypt to Midian. David was a shepherd at the time he was anointed the future king by Samuel (1 Samuel 16). Matthew speaks of God’s appointed ruler who will “shepherd my people Israel” (2:6, quoting from the prophet Micah, 5:4), Matthew speaks of the people needing direction for their lives as being “like sheep without a shepherd ” (9:36), and the division of people at the end of time “as a shepherd separates sheep from goats” (25:32). The parable of the shepherd seeking out the lost sheep is found in all three synoptic gospels. In John 10, from which our gospel passage today is taken, Jesus reiterates a number of times that he is the “good shepherd.”
The image of shepherd, then, in the Bible, is a very meaningful one, and speaks of leadership (especially spiritual leadership), responsibility and accountability, but also intimacy, gentleness and compassion.
The last verses of today’s gospel text indicates Jesus’ awareness and willing acceptance of his call. Although deeply anxious about his impending death, indicated by the blood in his sweat during prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus chose to complete his mission in this world. His sacrificial death was not forced upon him against his will. Sometimes we are blessed to know that certain challenges placed before us in this life are part of God’s plan which will result in good for others and eternal blessings for ourselves. Will we have the strength to say “yes” to God in such moments?