AGAIN WITH THE SHEEP! The gospel acclamation this morning is a short verse surrounded before and after with “ALLELUIA, ALLELUIA.” I actually think the word “alleluia” should always be written in all upper case letters and followed by an exclamation point. Otherwise it’s hard to get the enthusiastic meaning…but I digress. The verse itself reminds us once again that “my sheep hear my voice; I know them and they follow me.”
I started to wonder why Jesus spent so much time talking about sheep as a metaphor, so I did some searching on the internet. In addition to what is quite evident, e.g. that their “undercoat” is soft and generally a good market product, here’s what I found.
A sheep is a meek animal, usually very quiet and gentle, holding itself aloof from the world. In a herd, all the sheep tend to listen to the leaders and show esteem to them…
I read lots more but that was the gist of what I found to be necessary. It helped me to understand why Jesus chose to reference them—in addition, of course, to the fact that shepherding was a very common occupation in that era and area. If I were Jesus, I probably would have loved all my followers to be like sheep. I’m sure it would have made his life simpler, his mission easier to achieve. But we know it wasn’t like that for him, and, in reality, he sometimes goaded them into accomplishing amazing things (some after he was gone from this realm). Take for example the feeding of the 5,000 or the vision he showed to Peter, James and John on the mount of Transfiguration…Some of what he presented as lessons took some serious reflection after the fact!
All in all, discipleship is always complicated. It seems that the description of sheep (see above) even fits Jesus somewhat and could be all rolled into a definition of what love is like, so maybe he was trying to teach by example. Jesus needed his followers to exhibit those qualities, but life is never just like that. Often we are, as the disciples were, called to more complicated situations that necessitated stepping out of the “simple life’ that had been theirs before Jesus arrived on the scene. They floundered sometimes in those situations, as do we, but in the end they stepped up for what was needed to further the mission of Jesus.
Now it’s our turn.