I am the Attractive Shepherd

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“I am the Attractive Shepherd” (adapted from John 10:11.14)

Something Jesus said about himself: “I am the good – the beautiful, the attractive – Shepherd”! You may ask how come three meanings for the one word that Jesus must have said?

James Tissot, Le bon pasteur-Brooklyn Museum
James Tissot (1836-1902). Le bon pasteur (The Good Shepherd), 1886-1894. Opaque watercolor over graphite on gray wove paper, 28.1 x 14.9 cm. Brooklyn Museum).

Well, the Greek original word in John’s Gospel is kalòs: Egò eimi ho poimên ho kalòs = “I am the shepherd, the beautiful-the good one.” The adjective kalòs can mean both words. Why is that? Because the adjective is derived from the verb kalein, which primarily means “to call”. So how is “good” related to some kind of calling? What is beautiful (kalòs) calls to itself, draws to itself, attracts. But so does what is good! Beauty is attractive in itself, it draws the one who acknowledges it, savours it and enjoys it to itself. That’s why we call the art of fine handwriting ‘calligraphy’: fine, beautiful, attractive writing. So the Shepherd was also saying: “I am the Attractive Shepherd.”

Jesus doesn’t only say that he is the good-beautiful-attractive shepherd. He also says how, why he is the poimên kalòs. “The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (v.11) The Shepherd is good and attractive because he lays down his life for the sheep. If he lays down his life, if his life is “life that is given up for you” (Luke 22:19) and “that is poured out for you” (22:20), then we receive his own life within us when he shepherds us.

Later on in the same discourse, Jesus further qualifies his statement that he is the Good Shepherd: “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep” (John 10:14-15). He is the good, beautiful and attractive shepherd when he knows his sheep. Of course, this is not just knowing that one is white and the other is patched brown and black, that that other one is well-behaved and that one there is easily irritable and ill-tempered. Jesus is talking of experiential knowledge (the same knowledge is used for matrimonial knowledge: “Now Adam knew his wife Eve, and she conceived and bore Cain” [Genesis 4:1]!) So much so that he frames his knowledge of his sheep within the reciprocal knowledge of himself and the Father. And such a relational knowledge is also generative knowledge, since the Father (that’s why we call him ‘father’) generates the Son from eternity (that’s why we call him ‘son’ as well!)

The very fact that it is relational knowledge of the Father and of the Son, it is also communional knowledge. The Father cannot be father if he does not generate, if there is no one to call him ‘father’. So also, this can be said of the Son: he cannot be son if there was no one to generate him into sonship. As father and son, as Father and Son, Jesus and the Father cannot do one without the other: they won’t be father and son anymore!

This shepherding, this good, beautiful and attractive shepherding, of experiential knowledge, of communional knowledge find its fulfilment in the laying down of his life for his sheep. Didn’t he himself say: “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32) Again, Jesus summarizes all this attraction in another huge statement: “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will realize that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own, but I speak these things as the Father instructed me” (8:28). When he lays down his life, lifted up on the cross, he will also bring to fulfilment the communional relationship he has with the Father, in that his laying down his life for us will be according to the Father’s will.

– Are you willing now to follow this Beautiful, Good and Attractive Shepherd?

– Will you be ready to do as he did, and in so doing show that you ‘know’ him?

– Wouldn’t this be showing that being a Christian, belonging to the Good and Attractive Shepherd, knowing him, can transform the world into a more attractive, beautiful world to be in?

By Fr Paul Sciberras


Author: Joe Farrugia

Segretarjat għal-Lajċi.

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