In defense of sheep


In defense of sheep

The scripture passages for the Fourth Sunday of Easter have always left me with mixed feelings. Don’t get me wrong, I can get behind the concept of Jesus as the Good Shepherd. I mean, really, let’s be honest, it’s a serene and picturesque image at first, isn’t it?  Jesus, benevolently wandering a peaceful meadow, staff in hand, looking after a flock of docile, fluffy white animals, calling them by name. Pretty adorable if you ask me. (So adorable, in fact, that there are enough plastic shepherds and plush sheep in Catholic toy boxes to make me wonder just how long Fisher-Price’s marketing team has actually been around.)

First comes the image, then comes the exegesis – the critical interpretation of the biblical text to discover its intended meaning – and the scene shifts from tranquil to semi-chaotic. More often than not, it’s rather amusing. Always in a mess of some sort, always under threat, always in some sort of ridiculous bind of their own creation (and usually stuck head first), the explanations we hear typically bring us to the conclusion that the sheep need a shepherd to rely on because they’re infinitely stupid.

The image is still cute. And now funny, too.

Until I remember that the sheep are a metaphor.

Hahaha! That’s so adorab— heyyyyy….

Convinced that the sheep and I both are getting a bad rap, I did what any reasonable person would do: I went hunting on Google to find whatever I needed to vindicate us. It wasn’t hard. I typed in, “are sheep stupid?” and legions of people stood united to defend their honour and reputation. (And therefore, by metaphorical extension, mine.)

It turns out that sheep are remarkably intelligent. (Why, thank you.) They learn quickly, they have impressive memories and excellent recognition skills, they are part of complex social structures, and they are capable of delivering a painful kick to anyone who annoys them. (Yeah… that tracks…) In fact, my favourite line came from an animal scientist who said “sheep are smarter than you think they are. You just have to be smart enough to recognize it.”

There. Off the hook.

But in my quest to transcend the ‘stupid’ stereotype, I learned that part of the reason sheep tend to get into trouble is because they are sometimes too smart for their own good. They’re actually remarkable escape artists. If you’re trying to maneuver them in a particular direction, and they don’t want to go that way, they’ll head the other way. If you want one sheep in particular, and try to single it out, it’ll head for someplace where it figures you can’t reach it. And that’s when they get into trouble.

I’d love to say that this doesn’t apply to me, but deep down, I know that it applies far too well to plausibly deny it, especially when it comes to my vocation. Over the course of my life, it seems that more often than not, when I’m summoned by my Shepherd to a particular field, I’m inclined to head in the other direction. And I assure you, it’s not because I’m too dumb to follow directions: my decisions are calculated ones. Sometimes, I don’t want to go where he’s calling me because I know it’s a long and difficult road to get there. Sometimes I don’t want to be in the field he’s standing in because it’s unfamiliar or uncomfortable. Sometimes I don’t want to stay where he tells me to, because the grass looks much greener on the other side. And every time, I decide I’m going to go my way, not his.

And that’s precisely why I need a shepherd. When I make a break for it, someone needs to bring me back in line. When I get in trouble because I’ve escaped and managed to end up where I shouldn’t be, someone needs to bail me out. And when I march off in search of greener pastures, my shepherd guides me home (again, and again, and again) and reminds me, ‘No, I need you here. In this field. With me.”

And so, this year, on Good Shepherd Sunday, it’s actually the smart sheep who remind me again of my need to heed my Shepherd’s voice. It’s not because I’m dumb. It’s because I’ve learned that when my Shepherd calls me by name, it’s likely because I’ve gotten too smart for my own good and have decided to do things my way. I’ve been called to a particular field for a reason, and when I hear my Shepherd’s voice, I remember that my place is by his side.

By Darcie Lich
Vocation Team – Oblate Associate
(306) 220-0527