Some Sundays of the liturgical year have names that relate to the lessons that are (or were) traditionally read that week. This Sunday which is just such an occasion, is often called Good Shepherd Sunday. We hear Jesus describe himself as the Good Shepherd of the flock that he has come to call into being.
While there are many traditional ways of understanding this particular image, there might well be meaning that would resonate with the people of Jesus’ day and not with us. It’s striking to me that the early Church didn’t represent Jesus on the Cross at all. (That’s the primary way we present him now.) In the first centuries Jesus was often shown as a young man with a lamb on his shoulders.
This was clearly an important aspect of how the early Christians understood the Incarnation. To understand it, we should look back to the ways that Shepherds were used to describe other aspects of social life in those days. It turns out that the image is commonly applied to kings, pharaohs and emperors.
It’s that observation that forms the core of this week’s sermon.