Holy Land Pilgrimage

Jesus the Good Shepherd

February 2, 2020

Scripture inspires. Both the New and Old Testaments are the inspired word of God, meaning to communicate God’s truths to humankind. Scripture is inspired by God but written by humans who lived in the world. Today the pilgrimage group visited Neot Kedumim, a biblical nature preserve and there we saw the exact types of flora and fauna that inspired the language and imagery of biblical authors.

Founded 60 years ago, located between Jerusalem and Tel-Aviv, Neot Kedumim is a 600-acre piece of land where only plants and animals that are mentioned in the Bible are cultivated. Date palms, olive trees, sycamore trees, hyssop plants, sheep and goats all dot expansive mountainous landscape.
This behind the scenes look at the natural world of the Bible brought to life many of the familiar images that as a cradle Catholic are so dear to me.

A popular and deeply meaningful image is that of Jesus, the Good Shepherd. Pope Francis wears the image on his episcopal cross. It is an image of Jesus with sheep around his feet as he carries one small lamb on his shoulder. It is based on the parable from the gospel of Luke chapter 15, where the shepherd leaves the flock of 99 to pursue the 1 lost sheep.

This parable would have been very relatable to the people to whom Jesus was preaching. Many in the area were shepherds, and the Israelites had been involved in sheep herding since before the time of Moses.

Moses was also a shepherd before leading the children of Israel out of Egypt. In rabbinical literature, there is an account of Moses with his flock: From the larger group, one little lamb bolts. Moses pursues the lamb, leaving the 99. The lamb darts for a body of water, and proceeds to drink. Moses, upon catching up with the little animal, instead of berating him, says, “If only I had known you were thirsty.” Knowing that the lamb would be tired after all the running, Moses puts the lamb on his shoulders and returns to the flock. In the story, it is reported that God saw this, and in that moment decided that Moses was the right man to lead his people out of Egypt.

Jesus and those to whom he was preaching may very well have known this story. Jesus draws on it to make a point: he is the good shepherd, he is the new Moses, who will pursue any member of God’s flock who has wandered away, carrying them back on his shoulders as he leads the whole flock out of sin and into the promised land. No matter how far away we have wandered, and regardless of how many times we have wandered, Jesus will always pursue us out of love, and bring us back to the Father. There is no beratement. There is no neglect. Not in God’s flock.

Michael Kelly
Diocese of Yakima

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