Updated: Oct 9, 2020
The Good Shepherd
Fr. Marko Ivan Rupnik, S.J.
Y Slovenia 28 Novembre 1954
at the Church of the Ursuline Sisters in Verona
In this mosaic by Fr. Rupnik we see the Good Shepherd descending into Hell to look for the lost sheep. He rescues it from eternal damnation and carries it on his shoulders.
This takes place by means of the Cross, depicted here as in Eastern Iconography with the footstool where Christ stands. However, the Good Shepherd is not an allegory of the self-realization of man, like in the case of the Greek Myth of Orpheus, but an icon of the Saviour, He who takes care of his beloved flock by offering his life on the Cross.
Rupnik has created other mosaics about Jesus descending to Hell, but in this one the Good Shepherd is the Risen Christ. In this way he shows how Christ rescues Adam and Eve. As Christ is leaning forward towards Eve, He holds Adam on his shoulders; Adam is representing humanity, while Eve represents the soul being taken out of the darkness of death.
In the other picture, we can see this scene set at the foot of the Cross:
The crucified Lord has the eyes fixed on Mary while she points with her left hand to what happens below:
The New Adam (Christ) attends to the request of the New Eve (Mary) and rescues humanity from eternal death.
Mary, with her eyes fixed on the onlooker, shows what Her Son has done by dying in the Cross to save us all.
'Veni Lumen Cordium'
By Margaret Rizza
from her album 'Fountain of Light
'Veni, lumen cordium.
Veni, Sancte Spiritus.
Come, light of our hearts.
Come, Holy Spirit, come.
1 “‘Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. 2 The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5 They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers’. 6 Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.
7 So again Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 8 All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. 9 I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly’”.
In the confrontation of Jesus with the Jews over the healing of the Man born Blind, sentence was passed on the Pharisees as blind sinners.
In this text that follows that dramatic episode, Jesus is developing the theme of the Good Shepherd who will rescue the People of the Old Covenant from those who have led them astray to fit their own interests, as thieves that steal the sheep from God’s sheepfold.
The Beautiful Shepherd
The literal translation of the Greek term KALOS is not so much “Good”, as “Beautiful”. The Latin translations of the Bible were done following the Roman legal frame of mind; in this case the Hebrew word: TOB.
This term “KALÓS” appears more than a hundred times in the New Testament. We may understand the deep significance of this term if we consider that in the New Testament Christians are called to glorify God with their “beautiful” conduct when they do good to those who insult them. They follow the example of Christ who has given a ‘beautiful’ witness in front of Pontius Pilate, when he questioned Jesus about the truth, and John says that “whoever belongs to Truth listens to his voice”.
“Beauty” is a dynamic concept that shows the process by which the offering of self leads to the transfiguration of human reality, from death to life. In this sense, Jesus through his death gives life. Therefore, in the New Testament, the term “KALÓS” includes the Paschal Mystery as this transforms human relationships with the “beauty” of a self-giving love for one’s neighbour.
It acts like the seed that falls in the “beautiful” land in the parable of the Sower. It is the land that welcomes to the Word and bears fruit. The soil, too, becomes “beautiful” because it contains the Grain, the Word, which is Beauty Itself.
The seed dies and is being absorbed by the earth reflects the most difficult moments of the spiritual journey and it is that going through this passage we can turn to Christ in faith and see in his death a death like ours and in his Resurrection the hope of our rising.
Therefore, the Good Shepherd, the “Beautiful” Shepherd is the One who sees humankind through the eyes of God.
Beautiful is in turn he/she who lives a new life and carries the seed for a new humanity by passing from death to life in the most difficult moments of life, when we need the power of the hidden life of Christ in us to transform reality in the love of God the Father.
A Prophetic Tradition
Jesus speaks of the image of the Shepherd in the most genuine Prophetic tradition.
The image of the Shepherd is borrowed from the pastoralist way of life, so typical of the Ancient People of Israel. The Patriarchs met with God’s favour while keeping their flocks. The arrival in the Promised Land resulted in a social change. As the People of Israel settled, they developed agriculture while the rise of the cities favoured the establishment of the Monarchy.
However, nowadays you can still find groups of Bedouins wandering in the desert of Judea shepherding their sheep and goats.
God is considered the Supreme and Only Shepherd who entrusts the care of his People to the king, who is supposed to take care of the flock entrusted to him. However, many failed to do so and the Scriptures record bitter words for the leaders who so distort the image of the love of God for his People.
It has been testified that, unlike other parts of the World where cattle raising is in place, Bedouins lead their flocks by walking in front of them. They utter common animal sounds that the sheep seem to recognize. To venture a herd of sheep crossing the threatening current of a river, the shepherd would take a lamb of a leading strong sheep, put it upon his shoulders, cross the river and calling on the flock, the mother ewe would rush to cross the river to meet the young lamb. By seeing the success of her attempt, the rest of the flock would follow suit.
Jesus seemed to like this Old Testament imagery, which is so graphic to describe the divine ways to the point of becoming a sign of the arrival of the Messianic Times, and so appealing to many even in present days.
In those ancient times, the sheepfold would have a unique entry door. Only the shepherd would hold a key to it, to keep thieves from stealing the cattle. However, during the summer times, when the herds would be able to sleep in the open, a simple fence with an entry would be built, but without a door. It is reported that the shepherd himself would lie during the night at the door opening to prevent cattle from leaving and going astray.
This would give meaning to the words of Jesus when He says: “I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture” (v. 9).
Jesus demands from his disciples faithfulness to His command to take charge of the New Israel, the Church, because, the Pharisees and the Elders of the People have taken advantage of the Flock to feed their own interests. Jesus, the Good, Beautiful Shepherd who cares for the vulnerable and the lost sheep shows the right Face of God. When we walk with Jesus there comes a vitality, a superabundance of life as one who has life and life to the full.
Goodness and Beauty belong to God and are found in God.
In the waters of Baptism we have inherited His Spirit and His Mission to be beauty and goodness in the place and time we occupy in history. We make ours the prayer of St. John of the Cross:
“When you looked at me
your eyes imprinted your grace in me;
for this you loved me ardently;
and thus my eyes deserved
to adore what they beheld in you.
Do not despise me;
for if, before, you found me dark,
now truly you can look at me
since you have looked
and left in me grace and beauty”.
‘The Spiritual Canticle’, St John of the Cross, verses 32 & 33.
The call to contemplation is an invitation to silence and wonder. Before our eyes, God stands in all Beauty and Splendor. We may not always be able to see what is placed by God’s grace before our very eyes, however, God is there as if waiting for our attention to give us in a wink of an eye all the marvels of God’s Beauty. This will give colour, taste and meaning to our days.
The contemplation of the mystery of Love and Life will so transform our behavior and our life that what was so dark in us, will turn more gracious and beautiful. Christ, the Good and Beautiful Shepherd of our life will lead us to the green pastures where injustice does not exist, where sickness is not known, where hatred gives way to forgiveness. With his grace, we will be able to plant on earth the green pastures that we will find in Heaven.
Come Be With Me
Chants of Prayer by Kevin Mayhew
“Come be with me, all you who carry every burden.
I will give you rest. I will give you rest.
Come, be with me, all you who carry every burden.
I will give you rest. I will give you rest”.
 In Greek mythology Orpheus, descends to the netherworld as an allegory for the man who save his beloved wife from death, aspiring thus to have divine powers. Traditionally, Orpheus was the son of a Muse and Oeagrus (others say Apollo). According to some legends, Apollo gave Orpheus his first lyre. Orpheus’s singing and playing were so beautiful that animals and even trees and rocks moved about him in dance. Orpheus joined the expedition of the Argonauts, saving them from the music of the Sirens by playing his own, more powerful music. On his return, he married Eurydice, who was soon killed by a snakebite. Overcome with grief, Orpheus ventured into the land of the dead to attempt to bring Eurydice back to life… His music and grief so moved Hades, king of the underworld, that Orpheus was allowed to take Eurydice with him back to the world of life and light. (Encyclopedia Britannica, Orpheus - Greek Mythology -).  John. 9:41: “Jesus said to them, ‘If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains’”.  1Pt 2,12: “Conduct yourselves honorably among the Gentiles, so that, though they malign you as evildoers, they may see your honorable deeds and glorify God when he comes to judge”.  John 18,37: “For this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice”.  Mark 4,8: “Other seed fell into good soil and brought forth grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirty and sixty and a hundredfold”.  John 12,24: “Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit”.  John 10:11: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep”.  Genesis 12:1 “Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you”. Genesis 18: 1: “The Lord again appeared to Abraham near the oak trees of Mamre. It was the hottest part of the day, and Abraham was sitting at the door of his tent”. Deut. 26:5: “A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous”. Ex. 3:1: “Moses’ father-in-law was named Jethro. Jethro was a priest of Midian. Moses took care of Jethro’s sheep. One day Moses led the sheep to the west side of the desert. He went to a mountain called Horeb, the mountain of God”.  The People of Israel seemed to appreciate the pastoralist more than the sedentary way of life, which many times came associated with evil and with the decay of social values (cf. Genesis 4: 3-5: “Abel became a shepherd, and Cain became a farmer. At harvest time, Cain brought a gift to the Lord. He brought some of the food that he grew from the ground, but Abel brought some animals from his flock. He chose some of his best sheep and brought the best parts from them. The Lord accepted Abel and his gift. But he did not accept Cain and his offering”.  Jer. 23:1-3: “Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture!”. Ezk 34:1-6: “The word of the Lord came to me: Mortal, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel: prophesy, and say to them—to the shepherds: Thus says the Lord God: Ah, you shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fatlings; but you do not feed the sheep”.  BARCLAY, William, “The Daily Study Bible. The Gospel of John Vol. 2”, The Saint Andrew Press, Edinburgh, 1975, pp. 52ff.  Palm 23:1-3: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake”.  Ezk. 34:14: “I will feed them with good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel shall be their pasture; there they shall lie down in good grazing land, and they shall feed on rich pasture on the mountains of Israel”. Isa. 49:9-10: “Thus says the Lord: In a time of favor I have answered you, on a day of salvation I have helped you… They shall feed along the ways, on all the bare heights shall be their pasture; they shall not hunger or thirst, neither scorching wind nor sun shall strike them down, for he who has pity on them will lead them, and by springs of water will guide them”.  Pope Francis, “Evangelii Gadium” no. 24: “An evangelizing community gets involved by word and deed in people’s daily lives; it bridges distances, it is willing to abase itself if necessary, and it embraces human life, touching the suffering flesh of Christ in others. Evangelizers thus take on the “smell of the sheep” and the sheep are willing to hear their voice. An evangelizing community is also supportive, standing by people at every step of the way, no matter how difficult or lengthy this may prove to be”.  BARCLAY, William, “The Daily Study Bible. The Gospel of John Vol. 2”, The Saint Andrew Press, Edinburgh, 1975, p. 59.  John 21:15-17: “When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep”.  Mat. 23:1-36; Luke 11:39-52  Mark 6:34: “As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things”. John 3:17: “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him”.  BARCLAY, William, “The Daily Study Bible. The Gospel of John Vol. 2”, The Saint Andrew Press, Edinburgh, 1975, p. 60.