I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”
I had a very interesting experience on a large (100,000 acre) ranch in Wyoming in the spring of 1978. The day included “cutting” and branding calfs, watching sheep being sheered, and meeting a real shepherd, and watching sheep being herded. The day left me exhausted, sore, and enriched in many ways. The sheering process was accomplished remarkably quickly with large bundles of wool gathered from each sheep. The cutting and branding less apparently painful than you might imagine. The shepherd was quite a different kind of fellow – living alone out on the range with the comforts that only a conestoga wagon could afford.
But the herding of the sheep was most interesting to me. Getting the sheep to go in one direction was not difficult. Getting them to the specific location they needed to go (so they could be sheered) was easily accomplished. The challenge proved to be getting the sheep to go inside a barn to protect them from a coming storm (and to keep their wooly fleeces dry in anticipation of the sheering that would happen later that day.
The sheep ended up at the doorway of the barn that was in the inside corner of two wings of the barn that formed an “L”. The door was in the center of the corner. Sides of the barn formed a right angle. We were behind the sheep trying to get them to go in. But the barn was dark, and the flock refused to enter the door.
They told me that once one of the sheep entered the barn the whole flock would go in. But no sheep was going in so I took it upon myself to go and try to drag, push, or otherwise “encourage” a sheep to go into the barn. I was immediately and strongly warned away from my foolish attempt. I soon discovered why. Finally one of the sheep went into the barn and within 15 seconds the whole flock of 100 sheep were inside the barn. Had I been in that doorway I would have been trampled by 100 sheep!
Many lessons may be taken from my experience, least of which the idea of being one of Jesus’ sheep is not necessarily a complement. Sheep are dumb! They are vulnerable, ignorant, dangerous, and easily led astray.
But one lesson is comforting here. A good shepherd takes good care of his sheep. Whatever else we may know about sheep and shepherding, it is good to remember that Jesus is the good shepherd, who loves his sheep, cares for his sheep, dies for his sheep (but not foolishly, for he takes his life back up again after defeating the greatest enemy we sheep have), and calls his sheep to follow him. I wonder if he ever marvels at how apt his own analogy truly is!