January 22nd, 2021

Friends and enemies

By Submitted Article on March 7, 2020.

Sheep and shepherds

Second of three parts

Jacob M. Van Zyl

When farmers send sheep by train or truck to abattoirs, it is not easy to get the animals from the vehicles to the holding pens. Farmers who have both goats and sheep conveyed a secret to them: use Judas-goats. Apparently, goats are smarter than sheep. A few trained goats walk in front of the sheep, guiding them into the pen. Then the goats move out of the pen, and the sheep are trapped and betrayed.

Before that time, sheep face other enemies as well. Jesus pointed to the thieves that don’t enter through the gate and whose voice the sheep don’t recognize. “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27). The thief has destructive goals: to steal, kill and destroy.

Hirelings, who don’t really care about the sheep but flee in face of danger, are also enemies in disguise. They allow predators to have free access to the helpless sheep (John 10:12-13, Ezek. 34:1-6).

Good, caring shepherds, who risk their lives for the sheep’s safety, are the real protectors. They watch out for strays and predators, keep the flock together, and lead them to green pastures and fresh water.

Jesus felt compassion for the crowds who were like sheep without a shepherd (Matt. 9:35-38). They had no leader, no food, no water, no safety and no goal.

Staying in the flock by day, and in the pen by night, also safeguards the sheep from its enemies. By day, the shepherd’s sling-and-stone scared off predators before they could harm the flock. (The fact that David was good with the sling is no surprise). By night, shepherds slept next to the pen, like the shepherds of Bethlehem when Christ was born (Luke 2:8). Any disturbance in the pen woke them up to drive out the unwelcome thief.

The sheep/shepherd relationship has another lesson for believers and leaders. Shepherds don’t feed their sheep one by one, pushing a bunch of grass down each sheep’s throat. The shepherd feeds the flock as a group by leading them to good pastures and water. However, they did attend to sick sheep individually (Ezek. 34:4-5).

Jesus attended to the sick individually and preached to the crowds at mass gatherings (Luke 5:1-15).

Likewise, the natural way the priest and pastor should feed their flocks is to bring God’s word to them in a group setting. Those who have personal problems can be ministered to in a one-on-one basis.

Healthy members of the human flock should not expect their “shepherd” to visit them for mere chats and meals, while others need intensive spiritual care urgently. In the long run, most will get their turn for personal care.

Jacob Van Zyl of Lethbridge is a retired counsellor and the author of several faith-based books.

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