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Sheep Recognise Their Master
Some of you may remember that I had an office in Paris. You know the one where, by standing on a chair pressing your cheek against the glass and squinting, you could see the Eiffel Tower. Well, shortly before we exchanged contracts on our house in Upper Sundon the telephone rang as I was at my desk, not at the window, and it was my solicitor on the other end. “The question is,” he asked, “what do you want to do about the geese?” “Geese”, I said, “what geese?” You see, when I look around a prospective house, I look at the important things. Is there somewhere to sleep and is there a place for all my books? Very little else matters really and I certainly do not pay attention to poultry. Anyway, the sellers had geese in the paddock and they were moving to a flat; no pets allowed apparently and so they had wondered if we would take them over. “What happens if we don’t?” I asked. There were a longish pause and then the cartoon sound of throat cutting and talk of butchers. “OK”, I said, “we’ll give it a try.”
So that’s how we got into goose husbandry. Now as you know, they are territorial birds and will group together like those celebrated in Rome to see off any intruder. I have seen ours take on an Alsatian and even try to frighten away a low flying hang glider! But when two or three years after we had moved in, Margaret, the previous owner of our house came for a visit, she calmly leant over the gate and said hello and they came waddling up just to the sound of her voice.
So I can relate to the truth of Jesus’ parable and am sure that sheep (who ought on the face of it to be more intelligent even than geese) follow the shepherd because they know his voice and I believe the accounts I have read of shepherding in Palestine that speak of several flocks being mingled together and shepherds opening the gate and calling out so that only their sheep follow them out of the paddock.
There is a temptation with this reading to rush on to the next verse, verse eleven, where Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd” but I am glad we did not for the parable of the sheepfold on its own tells us things about who are true and who are false shepherds. It tells us what we might and should expect of our leaders. People in those times expected their leaders to know their people and to care for them. A leader was not to be a dictator or other severe autocrat but to be a shepherd. If we look at some of our world leaders today, in Syria, in Zimbabwe and in Libya for example we see their behaviours and characteristics are far from these.
The true shepherd you see comes in through the gate; he does not sneak in over the fence or under the rails but comes openly like Jesus did. The true shepherd calls his sheep by name and knows them, just as Jesus called the disciples and just as he knows us all, and the sheep, they follow the true shepherd for, as we hear in the Gospels, and as we know was so infuriating to the Pharisees, the crowds and the multitudes loved, trusted, believed and followed him wherever he went.
I don’t know how my geese remembered Margaret for so long, or how they knew that she could be trusted but they did and they followed her, and so surely we who know that God knows us perfectly, who know that God cares for us, wherever we may have been; we should follow whenever and wherever we hear his call.