The popularity of the 23rd Psalm is evidence the image of Christ as the Good Shepherd resonates with Christians.
Often called the Good Shepherd Psalm, the psalm itself does not use the term "Good Shepherd." That wording is from the gospel of John, where Christ describes himself as a shepherd in varied and various ways.
Christ speaks of himself as the shepherd seeking out the lost sheep. He says also he is the gate for the sheep, guarding the flock by keeping predators out and the sheep safe within. He is also the voice his sheep know and follow. These images not only comfort his flock, they also challenge his followers to heed his message and to follow him faithfully.
Christ also presents himself as the shepherd who identifies with his flock, himself a lamb, the sacrificial lamb, the Paschal Lamb, who lays down his life for the sheep. John the Baptist identified Christ as the lamb who "takes away the sin of the world."
This multi-dimensional image of Christ as the shepherd who not only comforts his followers but also challenges them offers a model for our own responsible exercise of authority and leadership. Modern shepherds -- of the church, the community or the family -- must not only console the sorrowing, they must also confront the stubborn. A genuinely compassionate shepherd will comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.
We welcome those who comfort us, but withdraw from those who challenge us. That is true in the arenas of faith and family and friends. Parents, for example, are shepherds of their children. They must not only console the distressed child, but also challenge the disobedient child. Different dimensions of the same compassion.
Children are glad when their parents allow them freedom; they grumble when they demand accountability. Children praise their parents when they say yes; they pout when they say no. Parents should not lose heart when they must practice "tough love." There is enduring value in the much maligned virtue of "holy nagging" -- constantly insisting on doing the right thing.
Good parents, as good shepherds, know when to console and when to confront. Different dimensions of the same compassion.
All of us need to be rewarded for our achievements and respected for our goodness. We also need to be reminded of our responsibilities and held accountable for our mistakes. Different dimensions of the same compassion.
Our best teachers not only encouraged us and affirmed us; they also corrected us and they challenged us. At times, love can agree; at other times, love must disagree. Different dimensions of the same compassion.
Jesus said, "I am the Good Shepherd. I am the gate for the sheep. I came that they might have life and have it more abundantly."
Father Earl Meyer is from the Capuchin Center for Spiritual Life, Victoria.