Farm life was difficult while I was growing up. My dad was always thinking about the next move he would make to increase our sustenance in those meager times. One of those times, he hit upon the idea of buying sheep and grazing them on the remnants in our fields after the harvest.
Dad spoke to people about what it took to raise a herd of sheep. He learned that sheep require quite a lot of care because they aren’t very smart. If they are left to their own devices, they will overeat, drink too much, and walk into situations where they can get their wool caught and they can’t get loose.
Dad approached us kids about the need to look after the sheep if he got them. He told us, “You’ll have to take turns shepherding the sheep or they will get sick and die.” He said, “I think we can do this and this is what we’ll need to do. You three older kids are going to need to take turns every day to watch the sheep. When you get home from school, you’ll have to get the horse out, bridle her up, and turn the sheep out into the field.”
We loved to ride the horse so to have an excuse to ride her every third day sounded okay to us. Then we got the rest of the instructions!
Dad told us, “You will have to keep the sheep in the field and not let them get caught in the fences. At the end of two hours, you are to herd them back into the corral.”
This was not the end of our job. Dad went on to say, “You will need to make sure they have water to drink. While they are drinking, you need to put the horse up. Then you need to go back to watch the sheep. If they drink too much water, they will die, so after they have drunk for just a little while, you need to put them in the barn away from the water.”
Then Dad asked us the important question. “Are you kids willing to take on this project?”
All three of us agreed and replied, “Yes”.
Well, the first few days were great because it was new to us. Then it started getting old and we argued over whose turn it was. Nevertheless, we managed to get through the season and sold the sheep with a pretty good profit.
I didn’t connect the symbolism of taking care of that herd of sheep with a pastor taking care of a congregation until many years later. One of our pastors asked me to speak at an evening meeting at our church during the Christmas holidays to tell them about the sheep that we see in the manger.
When we go to the Bible, we find all kinds of references to us being like sheep and that we need a shepherd. One of those is found in Numbers 27:16-17 (NIV) “May the Lord, the God of the spirits of all mankind, appoint a man over this community to go out and come in before them, one who will lead them out and bring them in, so the Lord’s people will not be like sheep without a shepherd.” Here the reference is about Joshua. In the New Testament, Jesus refers to himself as being the good shepherd. Listen to his words found in John 10:11, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”
Left to our own devices, we sheep can get ourselves in a lot of trouble. It is good to have someone to lead us in the paths of righteousness. I’m going right now to tell my Pastor, “Thanks.”
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