Silly creatures, Iíve always thought. With those bland, complacent faces. Cocooned in their woolly coats of indecision.
Give me fish any day. Silver, sleek and silent. Driven, fish are. See what they want (food, usually) and go for it.
Not sheep. They canít even settle down to a good munch without drifting around aimlessly.
So when Jesus asked me to be a fisher of men, I thought he felt the same way. Go get Ďem. Trap them, reel them in. Now thatís my kind of man, I thought. Someone I can follow.
So I left my nets and followed.
One day, we were walking along the road, kicking up a cloud of dust and arguing about whose turn it was to do the laundry. Not Jesus, of course. He was a little behind, deep in conversation with, of all people, a woman.
Anyway, we disciples were walking along, and suddenly a flock of sheep bustled through a hedge just ahead of us. Before we knew it we were surrounded by the stupid animals, shambling, jostling, following each other in circles. We stood and let them wash past, a great woolly sea. Not much else we could do. I drew the line when one of them tried nibbling my toes, though. Oi, Iím not a lump of grass! What are you, colour-blind? I hefted a kick at it.
Towards the back of the flock was the shepherd, labouring along with one sheep curled around his neck. Not a cute lamb, mind you (I can sort of see the attraction of lambs), but a great clumsy dead-weight ewe. Not beautiful, not intelligent, not even particularly useful (I mean, do you like mutton?). And there was the shepherd, a man of many winters, nestling the flea-ridden animal as though he loved it. (Did I mention that fish donít get fleas?)
Later that day, we were resting in a grove of olive trees, and Jesus was teaching us. I was drifting into a trance (it was beautifully cool and I was beautifully comfortable) when suddenly I was woken with a nasty shock.
ĎI am the Good Shepherd,í he was saying. ĎMy sheep know my voice and I keep them safe. Not like the hirelings. They donít really love the sheep. But the Good Shepherd will lay down his life for his sheep.í
What happened to fishers of men? I wanted to ask. But somehow, I didnít have the nerve. Especially when Jesus fixed me with his eye (terrible, penetrating eyes, he has) and asked if I cared for his sheep.
No! I wanted to shout. I hate sheep. They donít know their own minds. The only constant in their life is vacillation. Iíll catch fish for you, but donít expect me to like sheep.
I didnít say it. But I think he saw it in my face, because he turned away a little sadly and began talking about something else.
Well, Iím going to take you forwards in the story now. Past that hideous night when he was arrested. That night when the sun set on my courage and love. The following morning when it dawned in cold judgment on my bitter regrets. Iíd lost all sense of direction and had followed the crowd. Iíd drifted mindlessly, eventually ending up on a hill called Golgotha. Watched, from afar, as they crucified the man Iíd followed like a sheep.
Iíll take you past the next, glorious events, too. The birth of an audacious hope. Visits from a risen Lord.
But I still felt purposeless. So I returned to my first love, perhaps my true love. To fish. Straightforward, are fish. They donít require understanding or demand deep emotions. Catch them, sell them, fry them.
But once again he sought me out at my nets. Cooked me breakfast on the shore. And, gazing at me with those probing eyes, he asked me if I would care for his sheep.
Me? Care for your sheep? Iím no better than a stupid sheep myself.
But maybe thatís the point.
I knew I wasnít beautiful, clever or useful. But I was glad to be loved. Glad to be gathered once more into the embrace of the Good Shepherd. And glad, even, to learn to love the unbeautiful, un-clever and un-useful people around me.
Me, a shepherd. Whoíd ever have believed it?
Loosely based on John 10 v 11-16; John 21
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