[Jesus said:] “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.”
In his fourth "I am" statement, Jesus says, "I am the good shepherd." He then speaks about the reason why a shepherd is "good." "The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep," he says, contrasting this with the self-preservation that characterizes the hired hand. It's a striking image that highlights the difference between the genuine and the counterfeit, the committed and the indifferent.
The image of a shepherd would have resonated with his listeners because it was deeply rooted in the Judaic tradition. It called to mind the pastoral scenes familiar to the people of Jesus' time while invoking the prophetic images found in Ezekiel and Isaiah. It also recalled the stories of shepherds in the Bible, like David, who fought off lions and bears to protect the sheep in his care (see 1 Samuel 17:34-36).
However, Jesus elevated this familiar imagery to another level by focusing on the sacrificial nature of the shepherd, who was not simply willing to risk harm but actively choosing to lay down his life for the sheep. This, of course, was a prophecy of his own sacrifice for us, his sheep. Contrasting this with the hired hand's flight at the first sign of danger may have been a critique of religious leaders who fail to shepherd their congregations with the self-giving love that Jesus embodies.
Jesus' comments about the "good shepherd" are more than a comforting assurance of his care. It sets an expectation for leadership. In our communities and churches, those called to lead are invited to follow in the footsteps of the "good shepherd." Leadership is not a path to power or privilege but a call to service and sacrifice. Pastors must place the welfare of the "flock" above personal gain or safety.
There is a personal takeaway for us as individuals. We are called not just to receive sacrificial love but also to mirror it in our lives. As Jesus laid down his life for his sheep, we are invited to lay down our lives in service to one another—offering forgiveness, showing compassion, and working for justice. In doing so, we participate in the life of Jesus and reflect his light in a world that often values the very antithesis of this sacrificial love.
God bless you.