On Being a Sheep~The Rt. Rev. Michael Beckett, OPI

“Don’t be a sheep!”  “Sheeple.”  “Like lambs to the slaughter.”  Geesh!

We have heard a lot about being ‘sheep’ lately.  Wearing a mask, getting vaccinated, and any other ‘going along with the crowd’ type thing, etc. etc. etc.  Sigh…..

So, let’s jump on that bandwagon, and talk about sheep.   

We get wool from sheep.  Female sheep are called ewes, male sheep are rams, and baby sheep are lambs and are cute.  Lambs show up on cue in the spring around Easter time, and Jesus is the Lamb of God.  One serves mint jelly when serving lamb.  When someone is called a “lamb” it is considered to be a compliment.  Sheep live in fields and herds and pens and are watched by a shepherd.

Sheep are gentle, quiet, animals and do not give their shepherds a lot of problems.  They are not aggressive; they are very docile animals. The word “docile” as described in the Webster’s dictionary means, “easily managed or handled, readily trained or taught.” Sheep love to follow the shepherd and can often be quite affectionate.

So, what about the shepherd?  The shepherd is the man or woman who takes care of the sheep and goats.  It’s that simple.  Christ as shepherd is a pretty easy analogy to understand.  We are his flock, and he takes care of us.  What I didn’t realize or know is that the analogy runs deep in the literature of the ancient world. In Mesopotamia, the region along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, the model for kings was the shepherd. The king-as-shepherd was to “rule kindly, counsel and protect the people,” and “guide them through every difficulty.” Babylon’s Hammurabi, credited with the world’s first written law code, was described as a shepherd of his people. In ancient Egypt, the shepherd’s crook was used “as an insignia of kings, princes, and chieftains.” In the Iliad and the Odyssey from ancient Greece, ship captains are called “shepherds of ships.” Plato uses the shepherd analogy to define justice in the Republic, and in the “Statesman” uses the shepherd to symbolize the work of a good ruler.  And of course today, the shepherd’s crook is a symbol of our bishops, representing them as the shepherds of Christ’s flocks.

So, there we are.  Sheep and Shepherds 101.

Today’s Gospel, John 10:27-30 is a pretty simple one to understand:  Jesus said:

“My sheep hear my voice;  I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish.  No one can take them out of my hand.  My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one can take them out of the Father’s hand.  The Father and I are one.”

And reckon wonder, just how are we supposed to be those ‘sheep who know their shepherd?’  Jesus tells us in pretty no uncertain terms and more than once:  Love.  Dig this:

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. – John 13:34

This is my command: Love each other. – John 15:17

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. – Mark 12:30

But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you – Matthew 5:44

My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. – John 15:12

Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. – John 15:13

But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you – Luke 6:27

By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. – John 13:35

If you love me, you will obey what I command. – John 14:15

Pretty simple, right?  Not so much.  Sometimes loving is hard.   What about those who disagree with your politically?  Those who talk trash about you?  Those who make your life crazy?  Those folks who you really, really, REALLY can’t stand?  Gotta love ‘em.  No, we don’t have to like ‘em, but love ‘em we gotta.   Just remember, you will never look into the eyes of someone God doesn’t love. 

As I’ve said a zillion times, we are called to love and to serve the Lord with gladness and singleness of heart.  We are called to tade care of each other, regardless of our politics and idealogies.  We are commanded to ‘bless those who persecute us’ and we are called to ‘pray for our enemies.’  We are called to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, house the homeless. (Matthew 25:31-46). 

I think we all of us are familiar with the song, “Let There Be Peace on Earth.”  And what is the next line?  Yep.  “And let it begin with me.”  Isn’t it time we lived up to that?   What are we doing to bring about change?    To bring about that healing the world so desperately needs? 

It is up to each of us to conduct ourselves in a manner fitting our faith.   Look at what you say.  Look at what you post.  Look at what you do.  If you were accused of being a Christian, would your Facebook timeline bear witness to the fact?  

So, having said all of the above, shouldn’t we, as Christians, as the sheep of His fields and the flocks of his pasture,  do what we are called to do?

Love.  In every word that we speak.  Love.  In every post that we make.  Love.  In every action we take.  Love.  Amen.