In today’s Gospel, Jesus says He is the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. Too often we take this for granted.
We see the wonderful images of Jesus carrying a single sheep and do not think that it would have been completely crazy for a shepherd to die for the flock in their care. The ordinary shepherd would not put himself in unreasonable danger. After all, such a shepherd is just doing their job. Some occupational hazards are acceptable, but nothing too extreme. If a wolf comes along or a treacherous mountain pass presents itself, the hired shepherd will only put up so much effort before turning away to save their own skin. In the end, it’s just a business proposition.
We are not a business proposition to God. There is no cost/benefit analysis done on whether it is worthwhile to gather us when we have gone far astray. God loves us so much that He gave His only begotten Son to be our Shepherd. He is a shepherd that not only places Himself in danger but gives His life - even for the single lost sheep over whom the whole of heaven rejoices.
For anyone or anything else, the intrinsic limitations of creatureliness would put an upward limit on the totality of sacrifice made for the life of the sheep. For any creature, there would be a weighing of the scales to decide whether the effort would be worthwhile. But the Son of God does not operate this way. He is unbounded Love and unshackled from creaturely constraints. He can go after the one without forsaking the ninety-nine. He can lead and unite the flock of His creation. He can lay down His life of His own accord and take it up again.
Without the Good Shepherd, we would all ultimately be lost. Forever wandering barren hillsides, fighting with each other over the last drop of water from wasted river beds. We would be chasing mirages of green pastures that would only disappear before us in delirium as we plunged off the cliff. The hired shepherds would just stand there, heckling our demise. But God…
The Good Shepherd loves us and lays His life down for us. He takes it up again to lead us. He beacons us to verdant pastures and babbling brooks of life-giving water. He walks beside us through the dangerous passes, His rod and His staff comfort us as He pulls us to freedom and life. His feet are sure, and His hand is strong. He never wavers and never stops gathering.