A lamb is a young sheep. And it was the preferred victim to be used in the sacrifices in the temple of Jerusalem during the centuries of liturgical Jewish worship there, which lasted during Our Lord’s life and didn’t end until the Roman destruction of the temple in the year 70 A.D. So when Saint John the Baptist calls Jesus, “the Lamb of God,” a title which we repeat every time we attend Mass, he is referring to the sacrificial aspect of the life of Christ, going back to the sacrifice of the lambs at the time of the first Passover in Egypt.
But then, Our Lord changes the figure of speech. Yes, he is the Lamb of God. Yes, his blood will save the world as the blood of the Passover lambs saved the Jews from the avenging angel who passed over their homes in Egypt. But Jesus says of himself, “I am the good Shepherd.” So in addition to be prefigured by a dying lamb, he is also compared to the shepherd who must care for his flock, guide it to green pastures and to water, and protect it against all predators.
On Good Shepherd Sunday, the opening prayer at Mass says, “Give us new strength from the courage of Christ our shepherd . . .” And the alternative prayer says, “Your people . . . follow in faith the call of the shepherd. . .”
Sheep are defenseless animals and almost totally without resources in escaping wolves, bears, and even large birds of prey. One wonders how the species of sheep survived at all before the days of human shepherds and sheep-dogs. They need protection, guidance, leadership. We, like sheep, would be at the mercy of our enemies, too, without the protection, guidance, and leadership of God. And so he sent his divine Son into the world to be our shepherd. We are not alone; we are not without help, resources, protection, hope. Time and again, God says to us in scripture: Don’t be afraid! And then, “I am with you always, until the end of the world.” We know his voice. We hear his call. We follow him as sheep do their shepherd. And he refreshes our souls. Thank you for seeking God’s truth. God bless you. Father Victor Brown, O.P.
Note: This message was composed some years ago.