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Sheep? Us?

Thursday, March 1, 2012

In scripture we Christians are referred to as sheep.

I resent that.

Sheep are stupid.

Let's face it. Sheep have some real issues. For example, the book of Psalms tells us the shepherd makes his sheep lie down in green pastures. Get that? He "makes" them lie down. Goodness, they aren't even smart enough to rest on their own. And speaking of intelligence (or lack thereof), these wooly mammals have been known to follow each other over cliffs.

Sheep are party animals; they love to hang in groups, which actually is rather beneficial since they do get lost easily. An isolated sheep can become bewildered, disoriented, and even neurotic --easy prey for wolves and lions, an even bigger problem when they get upside down and can't right themselves -- not an infrequent occurrence.

All that being said, what's up with us being referred to as sheep? I mean, maybe I do get lost on a regular basis, but I've never ended up over a cliff. And as for getting down and being unable to get up ... well, yeah, that's certainly an accurate comparison, but it's not because I'm stupid. It's because I'm old. And okay, okay, I do have a hard time resting -- so many people to meet, places to go ... you know.

On the other hand, even with the less than flattering characteristics that sheep have, they do seem to have value. In Biblical days it was common to inspect and count the sheep at the end of the day. Even one missing was reason for the shepherd to fret. Look at the parable in Luke 15: "What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing."

Since an adult sheep could weigh around 115 pounds, it was no small effort to carry one back to the fold. Jesus continues, describing the shepherd's celebration: "And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost. Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.'"

So, even though sheep may be an accurate label for us and even though we do not demonstrate the sorts of characteristics that we typically value, we should never forget how valuable we are and how desperately our Shepherd wants us to ask forgiveness when we mess up. God is grieved when we venture off on our own, yet we all have behaviors which lead us further and further from His safe arms -- anger, pride, selfishness, envy, to name a few. And for those of us who believe we aren't really in danger, Isaiah 59:1,2 says we wander away from God into sin, and 1 Peter 5:8 warns us that the "devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour."

When we ignore or dismiss those warnings, when we naively insist on strutting our wooly stuff, we are, in effect, turning on our hooves and heading for the cliff. In other words, we are just daring the evil one to have his way with us.

Stupid sheep? Us?

You be the judge.

Patty LaRoche
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