“The Good Shepherd”
Mausoleum of Galla Placidia 425 AD Ravenna, Italy
The Mosaic we contemplate here dates back to the 5th Century and currently resides at the Galla Placidia Mausoleum in Ravenna, Italy. It features Jesus, six sheep, and the countryside.
This Mosaic is a much different depiction from other Good Shepherd pieces found commonly in the Roman Catacombs.
The feet, hands and head of Jesus are small in relation to his body, which is elongated and sitting in a very strange position. Jesus is no longer in rags as a typical countryside shepherd. He is wearing a gold tunic with a purple robe, and his head has been greeted with a large golden halo. He is seen greeting the sheep around him, actually touching the nose of one of them. This important piece shows the idea of Christ evolving together with nature. He is humble and caring, showing the sweet side of creation.
The sheep have a similar look to a dog with long necks and tails. The line work is chiseled into the rock to create a more in depth appearance. The space surrounding Jesus and the sheep is used to advantage to seem bigger than usual. The color is an earthy and natural one.
The gold robe of Jesus pops out to the viewer to focus all attention on him. The white of the sheep surrounding Jesus also brings in attention while the background is a light blue, showing it was daylight.
This piece is a very important piece of art during the earlier Christian period. During this time, art becomes more and more focused on religion and in particular on Jesus. At the time, artists begin to take parts from the Bible and depict them on Church walls and buildings.
The Mosaic of the Good Shepherd is an example of the importance Christian religion was taking, and the paradigm of artistic beauty at the time.
John 10: 27-30
27“The sheep that belong to me listen to my voice;
I know them and they follow me.
28 I give them eternal life; they will never be lost
and no one will ever steal them from my hand.
29 The Father, for what he has given me, is greater than anyone,
and no one can steal anything from the Father's hand.
30 The Father and I are one”.
Jesus has just been questioned openly by the Jews in the Temple “Tell us plainly, are you or are you not God’s promised anointed one?”
There is little doubt that behind that question were two attitudes of mind: Those who genuinely wished to know who Jesus was; And, those who wished to trap him. The latter wished to trap Jesus either into making a statement that could be twisted into a charge of blasphemy, dealt with in their own courts; or into a charge of insurrection which could be dealt with by the Roman Governor.
The answer given to them by Jesus was essentially that He had already told them who He was - though not in as many words.
The images Jesus introduced, the Shepherd and the Gate, are closely bound together.
The Good Shepherd
Jesus draws His followers ever closer to him, by introducing them to the kind and caring leader He embodies: The Good Shepherd. He shows that they must follow Him as sheep follow their shepherd.
Listen to my Voice
The image of the Good Shepherd is one of the most informative biblical images about Jesus. Part of that image involves His leadership and Lordship of the flock. Jesus expresses that role by saying, “My sheep hear My voice”. Only the Lord’s true sheep follow and obey Him because they know and recognize His voice.
The simple statement “My sheep hear My voice” is packed full of Christian Doctrine. It expresses personal intimacy between the shepherd and his sheep. In the First Century, a single sheep pen held multiple flocks, so it was essential for the sheep to know and recognize their own shepherd’s voice. There had to be an unmistakable familiarity between sheep and shepherd for the sheep to feel safe and know which voice to follow. Knowing the Lord’s voice indicates experiential knowledge through a relationship with Him.
“My sheep hear My voice” speaks of those who listen with obedient attention. This kind of listening results in faith. Saint Paul taught the Romans: “Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ”.
One primary way we hear the Lord’s voice is through the Word of God. By hearing His voice in Scripture, we get to know Him, and knowing Him produces faith, and that faith causes us to follow and obey him.
True sheep know the Lord’s voice and prove it by obeying His commands.
Jesus said of his sheep: “I give them eternal life”. This is the pasture that Jesus leads his flock to.
Those who belong to the Good Shepherd belong to God, the Father. They are his, forever. Jesus laid down His life on the Cross to give His followers eternal life, and they are safe in his sheepfold for all eternity.
All the littleness of earthly life would be gone, and they would know the splendour and the magnificence of the life of God. There would be a life that would know no end, death would not be the end, but the beginning.
A Life that is Secure
The sheepfold represents a place of security, a protective shelter of the family of God. He alone determines who may come in. He protects His sheep and leads them, and even lays down His life for them. Jesus was promising a life that was secure. Nothing cold snatch them from his hand. This would not mean that they would be saved from sorrow, suffering and death, but in the most sorrowful moment and in the darkest hour, they would still be conscious of the everlasting arms underneath and about them. Even in a world crashing to disaster, they would know the serenity of God.
“The Father and I are One”
When Jesus evokes this ‘hard saying’, He evokes the wrath of the Jews. Jesus does not say that He and the Father are “at one” but are “one”.
In context, Jesus is amplifying his statement that “no one can snatch the sheep from Him”, because they have been given to him by the Father. Father and Son are one in mind, will and action. The Jews, however, will go on to twist his words and accuse Jesus of claiming to be the Son of God.
Jesus contrasts himself with the false shepherds of Israel represented by the Pharisees. The great majority of the Jews had not accepted Jesus’ claim to be the Anointed One of God.
In the Gospel of John there is, behind it all, a doctrine of predestination, explaining that things were happening all the time as God meant them to happen. John is implying that by their own decision, these Jews were predestined not to follow Jesus. The whole of the New Testament keeps two ideas in balance: The fact that everything happens within the purpose of God; and, yet in such a way that our free will is responsible. The Pharisees had made themselves such, that they were predestined not to accept Jesus and yet, as John sees it, that does not make them any the less to be condemned.
The saying: “My sheep” shows that there are as well true sheep and false sheep. The true sheep know, listen to, and obey the Good Shepherd’s voice; the false sheep pay no mind. This saying “My sheep” communicates the reality of our union with Christ.
We belong to our Good Shepherd
“O God, whose Son Jesus is the Good Shepherd of your people:
Grant that when we hear his voice we may know him who calls us each by name, and follow where He leads; who, with you and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen”.
Jesus is our protector and Shepherd who guards and guides, who feeds and protects us from the dangers of life and defends us from anyone who tries to take us away from him. We are assured of this gift as we stay connected to hearing his voice.
Once again, Lord, your words ease our aching hearts. You know us; You give us your best gift, which is eternal life; You will defend us from anyone who tries to snatch us away from You. What more can we ask?
On our side is the invitation to follow You. But do we think of ourselves as your followers? Our daily prayer helps us to keep You always in view, to listen to your voice and to deepen the relationship that exists between us. Thank you for this graced time!
To hear the voice of Jesus is to be attuned to his Word. We pray in order to become more and more perfectly attuned to his Word.
Jesus is drawn to those who hear him - He brings the nourishing gift of eternal life. He draws his own life from the Father. To follow him is to be drawn into the mystery of their life. This is what happens, in faith, at the heart of our prayer.
 John 10: 24  John 10: 27: “The sheep that belong to me listen to my voice. I know them and they follow me”.  Isaiah 45: 3-4: “I will give you hidden treasures, riches stored in secret places, so that you may know that I am the LORD, the God of Israel, who summons you by name. For the sake of Jacob my servant, of Israel my chosen, I summon you by name and bestow on you a title of honour, though you do not acknowledge me”.  Exodus 33:17: “And the Lord said to Moses, ‘I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you, and I know you by name’”.  Romans 10:17: “Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ”.  John 6: 37, 39; 17: 2, 9; 18: 9  John 11  Romans 8:28-30: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified”.  1 Corinthians 6:17: “But whoever is united with the Lord is one with him in spirit”.