I once found a sheep stumbling around my living room. She scrambled onto the linen loveseat and - like a dog performing a rounding ritual before its nap - turned circles with her muddy hooves. After pounding a soiled ring into one of the cushions, she dropped back down to the floor. The sheep wandered around the room until her nose bumped into my couch.
Maybe she's blind, I thought.
With difficulty, the sheep climbed up on one end of the couch. She bumbled along the length of three grey cushions until she met an armrest. As if shocked to see an obstacle in her path, she froze.
Not blind. I rolled my eyes.
While the sheep stared down glared at the obstinate armrest, I noticed she was wearing a collar. It was made of purple satin and bore a name stitched in gold: BELOVED
Aw, somebody loves her.
Before I could think of who that might be, or why they had allowed their smelly ewe to trespass, the sheep railed. She bleated furiously at her adversary. She threw her front hooves high above her head and pawed the air, almost tipping backward, and then crashed her hooves down onto the armrest with again and again. The armrest was unmoved. Looking frustrated, the sheep turned circles on the couch, just as before.
Dumb sheep, I thought.
Abandoning the couch, she plodded over to my daughter’s foam play chair, which sat beside the television. She stopped, turned around, and backed into position. But her woolly girth wouldn’t fit into the small, spongy seat. She baaed in protest. I felt a little sad for her. It can be upsetting when our lady rumps don’t fit where we think they should.
Suddenly, she fled.
Bolting into the next room, she raced round and round my oak dining table, restlessly running - nowhere. Halfway through her ninth lap, she inadvertently hip-checked a wooden chair and knocked it to the floor. The bang sent her careening back into the living room, where she managed to wedge herself underneath my blue ottoman. The sheep hid there, alternating between bleating and panting. Her eyes kept darting back to the chair she had just knocked down.
I shook my head. This sheep is a mess.
Her hair was overgrown and matted in filth. The stench of sheep’s manure and lanolin wafted through the air. And bugs. They were crawling through the wool at the top of her head.
I felt like gagging. Enough was enough. I didn’t know where this imposter sheep had come from, but she didn’t belong in my house.
What do I know about sheep, anyway? I can’t help her. She’s emotionally unstable and making a mess of my house. I want her gone!
I don’t know how she knew what I was thinking, but she knew.
The dejected sheep wiggled her way out from under the ottoman and slunk to the front door. She wrapped her lower teeth and top gum pad around the knob and tilted her head. To my surprise, the knob turned, and the door popped open. Her hooves clip-clopped out and onto the concrete landing. She hesitated at the edge of the front steps, then cautiously picked her way down. But she was tired and shaky. Her foot caught a rough patch of concrete, sending her tumbling down the last several stairs. She landed hard but picked herself back up. Blood dripped down one of her back legs as she hobbled across my lawn.
Having scorned her only moments before, I had a change of heart and was suddenly feeling indignant on her behalf.
Where, exactly, is her shepherd? Doesn’t he know she’s lost? Isn’t he supposed to show her where the green grass and the cool water and the shade are?
Just then, a silver SUV crept by. The owner, one of my neighbor ladies, turned to stare at the bloody sheep crying in my front yard.
Maybe I should get her to come back in.
While I considered how I would drag an injured sheep into my house whilst somehow saving my dignity, I heard the slip-slap of sandals on asphalt.
A stranger was approaching. He seemed to be heading for the sheep. He wore orange flip-flops. His head was wrapped in a colorful scarf, and an army green canvas bag hung over his left shoulder. It bumped heavily against his jeans as he walked.
By this time, the blubbering sheep was almost to the road. She had limped down into my shallow front ditch, through last night’s rainwater, and was now climbing up the other side. The man stopped at the edge of the road, directly in her path. He knelt and waited. When she reached him, he whispered into her ear. She quieted.
She knows him?
The man retrieved a ram’s horn from his bag, yanked out its stopper, and poured oil into the palm of his hand. Then, he massaged the oil onto her scalp and throughout the wool at the top of her head.
But she’s infested!
The sheep stood still. She accepted his ministrations – for exactly one minute. Then, bleating rebelliously, she sidestepped the man and hobbled toward the road. He lunged and grabbed her collar, stopping her just short of an orange Jeep zipping by. Holding the sheep firmly under her jaw, the man led her down into the ditch to the rainwater.
She drank eagerly. He drew several broad forb leaves from his bag and let her eat from his hand. She chewed slowly, her bottom jaw jutting to the side repeatedly to grind the leafy treat. Next, the man heaved the sheep onto her backside, propping her up on her rump so she couldn't run away. He rubbed ointment on her bleeding sore and wrapped it with a long strip of clean cloth. He trimmed her overgrown hooves. While he worked, he spoke to her using kind, reassuring tones. Yet, the moment he was done and set her upright, she took off again.
This time, the man didn’t intervene.
I was appalled and screamed at him in my mind. Why would you fix her, only to let her get run over? Do something! Within two seconds, however, I knew why.
At break-neck speed, she was only able to leap four times before her bad leg gave way. She fell splat on the asphalt – face first. The sheep looked back, remorseful. Her snout was scraped and bruised.
The man got up, adjusted his bag into a better position, and went to her.
And all at once, my eyes were opened. I was enraptured, and my heart pounded wildly. How had I not seen it? It was so clear:
He was the Good Shepherd, and the sheep -- was me.
“What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it?” (English Standard Version, Luke 15:4)