THE SACRAMENT OF SACRIFICE: ‘The Door of the Fold’ by Sybil Parker (1895)
Christ as the Good Shepherd is one of the most endearing and abiding images in Catholic faith and tradition. This theme has also featured in a variety of art forms throughout history. In fact the earliest depictions of Christ can be traced to the catacombs where a beardless young Jesus, dressed in a short white tunic, carries a lamb across His shoulders. He is the gentle Shepherd who protects, gathers and lays down His life for His sheep. Today’s painting in consideration invites us to dwell on this sacrificial and sacramental beauty of Christ.
We are at once drawn to the perfectly proportionate immaculate figure of Jesus. Dressed in an elegantly flowing white robe, His beautiful face mirrors the purity of the spotless lamb that He carries. And yet Christ here serves not only as the sacrificial Lamb of God but rather a resurrected Shepherd whose death brings fullness of life.
The painting is buffered with theological and spiritual significance. Notice the downward gaze of the gentle Shepherd. It is clearly directed towards the sheep. Christ seems to be engaged in an intimate conversation with His flock. This gesture echoes the words of the Gospel, ‘My sheep hear my voice….I know my sheep and they know me.’
The essence of ‘the voice’ is scripturally found throughout the Bible, especially, as one may recall, during the Baptism of Jesus as well as during His transfiguration. It is ‘the voice’ that calls the sheep by name and leads them out. It is through ‘the voice’ that the sheep recognize the Master and belong to Him and it is ‘the voice’ that speaks to the heart of the sheep; the sheep who care to listen to Him. Thus this ‘voice’ represents the relationship that the sheep share with the Shepherd. The sheep, dim-witted as they are yet respond to the voice of only the Shepherd. They call us to do the same in the storm of a cacophony of voices.
The next function of the Good Shepherd is illustrated by the painting through the placement of the figure of Christ. Observe carefully that it is Jesus who unlocks the gate from the outside. He leads the sheep far beyond the desert waste and the scorching sun into greener pastures and restful waters. While willingly obliging to be the doorkeeper, Jesus also assures us that He is the Gate Himself. He further adds, ‘Those who come in by me will be saved.’