Sheep and the good
It is a little while since I have rescued a sheep, well at least a
In the Bible there are more than 500 references to sheep beginning in
Genesis chapter four where we discover that Abel was a “keeper of
sheep.” Little is known about the origin of the domestic sheep so far
back in time does it go. The sheep of Palestine were the “broad tailed”
sheep whose tails could weigh between ten and fifteen pounds and which
were considered a delicacy. The flocks provided food, milk, wool some
rough clothing as hides, materials for tents and of course were also
sacrificed. Sheep are gentle, affectionate, and unaggressive but in
constant need of care, attention and supervision.
My first sheep rescue took place in a Kentish garden, or more precisely
in a Kentish dining room. We had been invited to lunch by a neighbour
and just as we sat down to a light soup the French doors burst open and
in came a large and very heavy Jacob’s sheep. There he was head on the
table eying up the celery. The room was small, too small to accommodate
the sheep and he threatened to tip over the table so three of us, and it
took three of us manoeuvred him around and pushed him outside back to
his proper place.
A second happened in Cornwall where a chubby black lamb had
unaccountably escaped his field and was bleating piteously on the wrong
side of a fence. As I picked him up to put him back I was struck by the
oiliness of his coat. From afar a lamb appears to be a soft furry animal
but not so, the lanolin (I suppose that is what it is) was so rich that
he felt quite stiffly greased like the hair of nineteen-fifties Teddy
On Sundon Hills I found a heavily pregnant ewe transfixed by brambles
who needed cutting free with scissors and then last year a young strong
ram had somehow got his foot hopelessly stuck in a wire fence. We had to
summon help but after a tussle he was eventually freed.
So a full time shepherd, based on my amateur infrequent meetings with
the species, must have been busy. The sheep are in constant need of care
seeming to be able quite easily to get into scrapes of their own making
quite apart from the predations of wolves, hyenas, jackals and other
dangers. Shepherds had to be watchful, spending most of the year out of
doors with their immense flocks (usually several thousand strong) armed
with a cudgel, a sharp knife or like David the shepherd boy with a
slings and a pile of stones. All this would have been familiar to Jesus’
listeners as indeed is the New Testament picture that you have heard
since childhood, perhaps like me with the aid of a Ladybird picture
book, the image of Jesus the good shepherd.
But hang on a moment, is this familiarity leading us astray? There is a
shock in what Jesus says: “The good shepherd lays down his life for his
sheep.” Surely not! I have not reviewed all five hundred Biblical
references to sheep but I should be surprised if there are any stories
of shepherds doing battle with wolves to their own death. It makes no
sense, you would NOT lay down your life in this way for then the whole
flock would be exposed, you would not any longer be able to protect
them. It would be foolishness.
But Jesus did. He laid down his life for the sheep and as John tells us
it was for the one whole flock. Jesus says the one shepherd will lay
down his life and will take it up again for his sheep.
That lamb of mine, fluffy and furry and soft close up was not as I
expected and this parable of fluffy, soft and good shepherds close up
was not what the people listening expected. They recognised the shock of
what Jesus was saying: this was no ordinary shepherd who weighed the
risks, nor even A good shepherd but the ONE and ONLY shepherd of us all.
to Top Back to