We’ve never owned sheep in over 25 years of living on the farm, although we have considered it, even bought a book or two on sheep raising, and looked at a few heritage breeds. We haven’t bought one (yet). The downside of sheep is they are high-maintenance with a tendency to easily get into trouble , often have difficulty lambing so need to be watched and assisted if necessary, must have regular hoof and health care and most of all, are defenseless against predators. In other words, they require stewardship that we couldn’t commit to providing. Cows, horses, goats, chickens, geese, and ducks seemed like commitment enough.
The sheep herds of Bible times (and even these days in sheep country) have full time shepherds moving with the flocks, using dogs for predator control and flock management. The shepherd is essential for the survival of the sheep, as well as the well being of the entire flock.
Jesus is called the Great Shepherd not just because of his leadership, but because he is also the Lamb. He knows the vulnerability of having no means to defend oneself, being completely submissive to a greater will and plan than one’s own, having experienced the pain of sacrifice, and the rescue into the loving arms of the Lord after death. Knowing our weakness, Jesus carries us, his sheep, gently and lovingly on his shoulders, guiding us to the pathways where we will be safest, searching for us if we are lost, protecting us if we are threatened.
The shepherd, knowing the sheep, promises to be there, no matter what, no matter where. We who have gone astray, every one to his own way, will return to the fold, knowing he calls to us out of love.