Home > Living the Gospel > Sheep

Sheep are really very stupid animals. I bet you have never gone to a circus and seen any trained sheep! Sheep have a very strong flocking instinct and seldom act independently. They are apparently the only domesticated animal that can’t go wild. If they get separated from the flock, they don’t know how to survive and so probably will get eaten. Similarly, they are ill-prepared for survival on their own. I mean this physically as well as mentally. They have no body part that protect, like claws or shells. They do have wool, but that only allows the enemy to grab and pull them down. Even their voices are kind of whiny and certainly wouldn’t scare anything. Baaaaah. They can be willful, stupid, and stubborn. And this is what we are compared to in the Bible!?

Not only that, but shepherds don’t fare very well either. At the time of Jesus, they were seen to be the lowest of the low in terms of profession. Their testimony wasn’t accepted in courts of law. They were seen as bandits and thieves…low life. You probably wouldn’t be happy if your son or daughter wanted to be one! Even so, if you have seen pictures of the Holy Land, you know that shepherding would be a tough job. The land is not very conducive to grazing. It is very hilly and the green pastures and still waters of the Psalm 23 are not very easy to find. There would be a lot of walking to find any pleasant valleys. And yes, this is what the Bible and Jesus draw upon as something that we can be compared to. I hope you can find some humor in this as well.

As a people we can be very much like sheep. We can go along with the crowd and not make our own thoughtful decisions about things. We can get caught up in the rat race of our work lives where we just move from one thing to another as if by rote. We can subscribe to the economic philosophy of success at any cost, and that the more things we have, the happier we will be. We can be herded into the idea that we create our own successes. And these things carry over into our religious or spiritual lives as well. We think we can do things that can get us closer to God. We are achievers, but we have only learned that we can never achieve enough. The happiness that comes from achieving is never quite within our reach, because we always seem to need more achievement.

That is why God is laughing at us today. That is why Jesus has chosen the imagery and metaphors that he has. The whole point of the shepherd and the sheep, it seems to me, is that we can “stop trying to achieve a life, and choose instead to receive one.” Because we are like the sheep, we have to depend on the shepherd more than we do. Jesus is the good shepherd, the one who leads his sheep. A bad shepherd pushes from behind. Jesus knows the sheep by name. And in speaking to them, the sheep listen, and know his voice, and follow him. It is so important that we realize that Jesus is talking to us. We must learn to recognize his voice, and then follow him. Other voices will only distract us, hurt us. “The sheep follow him because they know his voice…. They do not know the voice of strangers.” By letting Jesus lead us, by giving into his leadership with trust that he will protect and guide and do all the wonderful things of Psalm 23, by listening to his voice, by simply being grateful for all the care he gives, we can free ourselves from many of the burdens of this life – the anxiety of trying to be a great success in work, in marriage, in parenting, in life. We can take the time to look at the wonderful graces that are already a part of our lives, the gifts that God has given, the graces we have received, and concentrate on the positive in our lives. Sure there has been sickness, death, discouragement, but by giving all that to God, by finding the ways God has been good to us, by listening to God’s voice, we might eventually find the happiness and peace we have been working so hard to get on our own. Jesus says: “I came that [you] may have life, and have it abundantly.” We can look up and see God smiling at his sheep!