For those of us who grew up in church, the image of Jesus as 'shepherd' is one of the most common pictures that shaped our understanding of what Jesus is like. As you can see the from the pictures, it's a comforting image ... but it's also misleading. Firstly, the pictures of Jesus here are disturbingly white. Secondly, the tenderness of Jesus as shepherd is true ... but it's not the only thing that this image is meant to communicate. When Jesus says 'I am the good shepherd,' we hear that he cares about us, seeks us out when we are lost and leads us to places of nourishment and growth. When his audience heard this, however, that's not the first place their minds would have gone. For the Jewish community in the first century, their minds would have heard promises of old, a call back to an ancient prophetic promise that comes to the people from God through Ezekiel. Read it slowly and take your time over it.
2Thus says the Lord God: Ah, you shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves!
Should not shepherds feed the sheep?
3 You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fatlings;
but you do not feed the sheep.
4 You have not strengthened the weak, you have not healed the sick, you have not bound up the injured, you have not brought back the strayed, you have not sought the lost, but with force and harshness you have ruled them.