Another of Christ’s famous ‘I am’ sayings, found in St John’s gospel, is where he spoke of himself as ‘the Good Shepherd’. While teaching the people in Jerusalem, he shared with them a parable about a shepherd who protected his sheep. The shepherd, he said, “calls his own sheep by name and leads them out… and the sheep follow him because they know his voice” (10:3-4).
However, when his listeners didn’t understand what he meant, Christ spelled it out, saying: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep… I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father.” (John 10:11,14)
Reflecting on this passage, Pope Benedict XVI explained: “The image of the shepherd comes from remote times. In the Orient of antiquity, kings would designate themselves as the shepherds of their peoples. Moses and David in the Old Testament, before being called to become the leaders and pastors of the People of God, were in fact shepherds with flocks.”
He went on: “In the anguish of the period of the Exile, confronted by the failure of Israel’s shepherds, that is, of its political and religious leaders, Ezekiel sketched the image of God himself as the Shepherd of his people. Through the prophet God says: “As a shepherd seeks out his flock… so will I seek out my sheep; and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness” (Ezekiel 34:12).”
The pope then observed: “Jesus now proclaims that this time has come: he himself is the Good Shepherd through whom God himself cares for his creature, man, gathering human beings and leading them to the true pasture. … In this passage, the Lord tells us three things about the true shepherd: he gives his own life for his sheep; he knows them and they know him; he is at the service of unity.”
The image of Christ as the Good Shepherd has been immensely popular since the very beginning of the Church. Paintings of the scene are found among the catacombs, where the first Christians worshipped in secret. Later, the image was brought to life through marble statues and mosaics.
This half-moon mosaic of the Good Shepherd is by the Ludwig Oppenheimer firm. It’s found within the church of the Sacred Heart and St Margaret Mary in Aston. This church, which opened in the 1920s, features many beautiful mosaics. The overall design of the church is Byzantine in style and the mosaic work (which dates to the period 1922-1934) reflects this approach.
This particular mosaic is part of a set of three that sit above the confessionals. Each is of a gospel scene that speaks to the theme of reconciling with God. Throughout the years, Catholics going to confession in this church would be reminded of the caring ‘Good Shepherd’ message when entering the confessional.
Here Christ is pictured seated, with a halo, surrounded by his faithful sheep. In his left hand is a shepherd’s crook, while his right hand extends a blessing. The design appears to draw inspiration from mosaics found in the Italian cities of Venice and Ravenna. A notable example would be the famous scene found in the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia.
Where to find this work of art
Sacred Heart and St Margaret Mary, Aston
Read the relevant passage
On a similar theme
- From the Old Testament: The prophet Abel was the original Good Shepherd, who was later murdered by his jealous brother.
- From the New Testament: The saying finds a parallel in the Parable of the Lost Sheep, which also speaks of God’s care for his flock.