The Good Shepard

In talking to the Pharisees (grey with white head dresses in upper left corner) Jesus uses several metaphors about shepherds and sheep to explain his relationship to his followers—in contrast to theirs.

The top left quadrant illustrates the difference between the true shepherd (Jesus in blue with a white sash) who enters the sheep pen by the gate and the thief or robber (in orange in the tree) who climbs over the wall. The gatekeeper (in yellow) opens the gate for the shepherd and the shepherd calls his own sheep by name (white sheep versus the spotted sheep). He goes ahead of them and they follow his voice. They will never follow the stranger (orange) because they do not recognize his voice.

The top right quadrant goes a step further: Jesus says, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate.” The sheep who enter through him are safe and can move freely in and out of the pen, finding green pastures. The other figures (yellow, orange, and red) represent people who have come before Jesus—whose intention is to steal, kill, and destroy—whereas Jesus says, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”

In the lower left corner a wolf tries to attack the sheep. Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” The hired hand (in yellow, carrying a bag of money) abandons the sheep when he sees the wolf coming. The wolf attacks the flock and the sheep scatter.

In the bottom center of the painting Jesus is the good shepherd loving his sheep. The Star of David behind him symbolizes his relationship to God the Father. The cross and empty tomb to the right of the tree represent Jesus laying down his life for the sheep—and taking it up again.

On the purple hillside behind Jesus are other sheep that belong to him, ones who also listen to his voice. He will collect all his sheep together into one flock with one shepherd.

The right lower quadrant shows the Jews divided in their understanding of Jesus’ teaching. Some claim he is demon possessed (Jesus with a black bird inside him). But others remember the miracle of the man born blind (dressed in green, holding his cane).