Lenten Art Reflection: “I am the good shepherd” (Week 5)

I am your Good Shepherd (2018), Acrylics fuq l-injam
Oratorju MSSP, Birkirkara Malta
David Schembri

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.

“I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me—just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”

The Jews who heard these words were again divided. Many of them said, “He is demon-possessed and raving mad. Why listen to him?”

But others said, “These are not the sayings of a man possessed by a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?”.

(John 10: 11-21 RSV)

REFLECTION: When someone sneezes, you promptly say, “God bless you.”  At times, we also ask others, especially if they are priests, to “bless me.” But did you ever wonder what ‘bless you’ actually means? Or in Maltese, ‘berikni’? The word ‘bless’ comes from Latin ‘benedicare’ (bene: good, and dīcō: spoken word), if you observe the thought behind it, that, is an invitation to others to say good things about you. By implication, therefore, when you ask God to bless you, it isn’t just another phrase we say, which true scope could be lost…but its scope is an invitation to experience God, telling you beautiful words; a good word we so often long to hear.

The identity that Jesus expresses on himself, which we are reflecting on today, is that of Jesus as the Good Shepherd. We also heard of this, several times; it probably competes with the phrase ‘bless you’, and therefore its powerfulness is somewhat blurred. When Jesus says He’s the Good Shepherd, what makes him Good, isn’t simply that He knows what He needs to do, but it’s more than this… what He does, He does within the intimacy of a relationship: “I am the good shepherd; I recognise my sheep and my sheep recognise me” (John 10:14). To recognise someone means  you know them so well that if you see something that reminds you of them or spot them from afar or in a crowd, you are able to recognise them.. because you precisely know who they are.

A sweet detail is present in this image; the shepherd is embracing his sheep. A detail that shows  profound intimacy enabling the sheep to feel one with Him, the One who looks after it. It can say convincingly “THIS is MY shepherd.” In this instance, he doesn’t simply remain the boss or teacher, but becomes the friend; the friend that recognises me because he knows me and knows me well. And because he knows you well, he is able to say beautiful words about you. Since he knows you well, he doesn’t utter superficial words to fill sound space, but he truly wishes to bless you – that is, to tell you a good word! Since he knows you well, he is not angry when you make a mistake or when you get lost, but because he acknowledges your weakness, he comes  looking for you, wherever you are. And furthermore, he wishes to whisper in your ear a good word; to whisper news that give you hope and comfort you; that help you look at your day and all it brings, with trust… as you KNOW, who you’re trusting in. That’s what makes him Shepherd – actually, that’s what makes him a Good Shepherd.

Today, I’d like you to live in this atmosphere of  love relationship with the Shepherd. I understand we all carry some resistance towards these words; I also feel this, while writing this. But today the Lord, with closed eyes, because He’s able to trust more than us, wants to instil in your heart a word of peace and a blessing: “The Lord bless you and keep you the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you;  the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.” (Numbers 6 24:26). You have a choice to make today; you can either keep looking and longing for that good word from whatever comes to hand; keeping your eyes open and trusting in your ability to recognise this good word that you can hear from someone else; or you can be with Him – with YOUR Shepherd, and you can rest in His blessing.. whilst you quietly recognise this good word, He wishes to tell YOU.