Sheep are gross and smelly. And kinda dumb.
When someone compares you to a sheep, it’s almost certainly an insult. It’s a term commonly used to define those who either cannot or will not think for themselves. People who mindlessly follow the crowd and don’t ask questions. People who get into trouble because they don’t have enough awareness of their surroundings to avoid danger. Sheep are easily confused and taken advantage of.
Nope, I don’t like this comparison very much at all.
But this is the metaphor we are presented in the readings this week. Jesus is the Good Shepherd; we, therefore, are the sheep. As Chris pointed out, this is a dominant theme through the Scriptures as well. So surely there is a deeper message here.
As I read through the scriptures this week, I was reminded of what being a sheep is all about. Sheep recognize the voice of the shepherd. They follow the shepherd because they trust him. Sheep find rest and peace and good paths and comfort and blessing.
The sheep follow the shepherd and find life.
We get into trouble as Christians when we eschew our role as sheep and decide that we’d rather be gatekeepers. Because that job looks much more interesting. The gatekeeper gets to decide who enters through the gate and who gets left in the cold. The gatekeeper gets control.
We have way too many Christians who are trying to decide who is in and who is out rather than simply following the voice of the Shepherd.
So when a gay man is drafted into the NFL and ESPN shows him kissing his boyfriend, we can think our job is to jump into action and make sure everyone knows which side of the fence he is on.
Or when a movie about a biblical story does not meet our accuracy standards, we grab our verbal weapons to defend Scripture without first watching the movie or listening to the people who made it.
I’m not saying that we shouldn’t point out evil or stand up to injustice. Far from it. Our world needs people who will act courageously to bring light into dark places.
But the simple truth is that I don’t have the necessary knowledge or wisdom to be a gatekeeper. I don’t exhibit enough love or patience or grace. So my job is to be exactly what God created me to be — a sheep following the voice of the Shepherd.
If you look at the end of Acts 2 in this week’s readings, you see this dynamic. Christians meeting daily, worshipping and living life together. Listening to the Shepherd’s voice, they shared their money and meals and possessions. They took care of one another and made sure no one was in need.
And they enjoyed the goodwill of all the people. Daily people were added to their number because of the attractive way they were living together.
Perhaps our world would be a better place if we just acted like sheep, listening and following the Shepherd’s voice, rather than trying to be gatekeepers. If we just focused on loving each other better and showing that a better life is possible. That a new kingdom does exist.
Maybe then we would all find the good paths. Maybe then we would find the rest and peace and comfort and blessing we really desire.
And maybe more people could hear the Shepherd.