As in the representation of the philosopher, so too through the figure of the shepherd the early Church could identify with existing models of Roman art. There the shepherd was generally an expression of the dream of a tranquil and simple life, for which the people, amid the confusion of the big cities, felt a certain longing. Now the image was read as part of a new scenario which gave it a deeper content: “The Lord is my shepherd: I shall not want ... Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, because you are with me ...” (Ps 23 :1, 4). The true shepherd is one who knows even the path that passes through the valley of death; one who walks with me even on the path of final solitude, where no one can accompany me, guiding me through: he himself has walked this path, he has descended into the kingdom of death, he has conquered death, and he has returned to accompany us now and to give us the certainty that, together with him, we can find a way through. The realization that there is One who even in death accompanies me, and with his “rod and his staff comforts me”, so that “I fear no evil” (cf. Ps 23 :4)—this was the new “hope” that arose over the life of believers.Spe Salvi 6
Reflection – The image of the shepherd completes the image of the philosopher. We can think of studying at the feet of our Master as a question of learning something Jesus needs to teach us, and then going on our way to live it out.
The shepherd corrects this image. A sheep does not study under their shepherd, learn a few principles about fighting off wolves and finding pasture, and then go its merry ovine way. Sheep stay with the shepherd. We stay with Jesus.
This beautiful image Pope Benedict develops, that Jesus is the one who has walked the passage of death and come back to life, and so knows how to guide us through it, is so crucial. We live in a world governed in many ways by fear. How are we to preserve our way of life? How are we to manage the global economy? Terrorism? Pollution? What is the future for our children, their children, ourselves?
All of these are perfectly legitimate questions, but the fear, the anxiety, the near-despair that comes on their heels—we need to meet this with the one who has been through death and Hell and come back victorious. Hope is what we need; Jesus, because He is stronger than death and evil and sin, brings us hope. And this shepherd, this man who knows where He is taking us, is the one in whom we find this tranquil, ordered life in the midst of our chaotic, frantic world. And maybe, if we stay with Him and so have this strange peace in the face of whatever the future is bringing, we can offer our ‘unshepherded’ brothers and sisters the witness of our peace and trust, and so help them find their way to the Shepherd of all souls.