Sheep are mentioned in the Bible more than 500 times – more than any other animal. The obvious reason is the pastoral culture of the times in Israel – there were a lot of sheep around in the Middle East.
But sheep also make for a good image of those who follow the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob –but most especially followers of their most famous descendant: Jesus Christ.
The reasons being that sheep are biologically and anatomically defenseless. They do not have natural ways to protect themselves --- so they desperately need a shepherd.
Second, sheep often get themselves into trouble. Although sometimes sheep are stereotyped as being dumb – they are actually quite intelligent – but the reason they get into trouble is because they are followers – it’s just part of their herd instinct – so they desperately need a shepherd.
Sheep also get into trouble because of their sight. Sheep have excellent peripheral vision – they can see far on either side without turning their heads – but it is difficult for them to see what is directly in front of them.
So sheep often stray from the path to get a better look or because they are curious. They are easily sidetracked or lose their way. Sound familiar?
And of course it is their tendency to get distracted and lost that, again, they desperately need a shepherd.
Good shepherds in Jesus’ day were devoted to their sheep. They would talk – even sing to them – in order to calm them and make them feel secure. They would anoint them with oil as a repellent against pests.
A good shepherd provided nourishment, refreshment, and protection. Good shepherds were so involved with their sheep that they knew and called each one by name. They were willing to risk their own comfort and even their own lives – for the sake of their sheep.
This is the caring and sacrificial relationship Jesus had in mind when he says, “I am the good shepherd – I know mine and mine know me. They will hear my voice and there will be one flock, one shepherd.” Our good shepherd is a guide who can be completely trusted as we follow after him.
Once upon a time – a man fell into a deep hole and could not get himself out.
A sensitive person came along and said: “I feel your pain down in that hole.”
A practical person came along and said: “I knew you were going to fall into a hole sooner or later.”
A self-righteous person said: “You do know that only bad people fall into holes.”
A news reporter wanted an exclusive story on the hole, its origins, and the full scoop on the person who had fallen.
A self-pitying person said: “You haven’t seen anything until you’ve seen the hole I once fell into.”
An optimist came along and said: “Well, things could be worse.” While a pessimist said: “Things will get worse.”
But Jesus, on seeing the man – called him by name, took him by the hand – and lifted him out of the hole. . .
Jesus lifting us out of the holes we sometimes stray into --- what a good image to help us understand what Jesus means when he says: “I am the Good Shepherd.”
How often do we stray from the path of the Gospel – get sidetracked or lose our way – falling into sometimes very deep holes:
Unemployment, addiction, debt, loneliness, illness, concern for our future, worried about those we love, plagued by our past mistakes and present sins ---- life can be filled with deep, dark holes.
Christ is the Good Shepherd – and he is here to help us --- but he will never force himself upon us.
Jesus simply invites-------- invites us to hear his voice – invites us to take his hand – invites us to follow after him.
Do we have the courage as well as the humility to admit that we are trapped in a hole – and need Christ’s help? Are we able to extend our hands and hearts and allow Jesus to lift us up? Are we willing to allow the Good Shepherd to help us in our need?
Jesus said: “I am the Good Shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep.” Do we hear his voice –and are we willing to follow after him?
Moments in time...