The early Christians were very struck by visual images. With a faith that attracted not only the great minds of the time but also the illiterate there was a need to pass on the stories of the Gospels in a way that they could be immediately understood. Now like stories, images rarely come from nowhere. There is always some reference to something that has existed in the past. The early Christians borrowed some of these images for their own purposes. Amongst ancient statues you can find the Moscophoros- literally the calf bearer. It is a depiction of a calf, carried around the neck of a man being taken to the altar for sacrifice.
It’s not a great intellectual leap to find what the early believers did with this. On the ceiling of one of the cubicles in the Roman Catacomb of St Callixtus there is a striking depiction of a young man with a lamb around his neck. It is the earliest image we have of Christ the Good Shepherd. But the Christian use of the image was very clever. They had borrowed an ancient symbol but they had given it a double meaning. It could be read and explained twice. Not only was Christ the Good Shepherd but also he was the lamb being taken for sacrifice by the bearer.
It’s only natural to ask that if Christ is the all caring shepherd why does he allow us to get into awful fixes. Perhaps this story, originally told by a lady called Nora Shankey, might help.
In highland, sheep often wander off into the rocks and get stuck in dangerous places. The grass on these mountains is very sweet, the sheep like it, and they will jump down ten or twelve feet when they spy a juicy patch. They may be there for days, until they have eaten all the grass. When they can't jump back again then the shepherd will hear them bleating. The shepherd waits until they are so faint they cannot stand, and then puts a rope around himself, and goes over and pulls the sheep up out of danger. But why doesn’t the shepherd go down there when the sheep first gets there? Well sheep are rather foolish creatures. They would probably take fright and jump into even further danger. And isn’t that the way with us; We often won't go back to God until we have lost everything. We are wanderers. However we have a Good Shepherd who will bring us back the moment we have given up trying to save ourselves and are willing to let Him save us in His own way.
So our Loving Father as the Good Shepherd often teaches us in ways that we rail and rant against, in ways that seem strange. In ways that seem to offend the secular notions of dignity and 'rights'. Yes, we might lose everything earthly. We might even lose our diocese. But all for the sake of saving our souls. Thanks be to God.