“The Shepherd Who Doesn’t Give Up”
The Shepherd who Doesn’t Give Up
I was fortunate to have a loving mother while I was growing up. Because of this I assumed that all mothers naturally loved their children. I assumed this was true of both the human world and the animal kingdom. Imagine my surprise then when I discovered while helping to raise sheep in high school that this was not always the case. There are sheep who, when upon becoming new mothers, push their lambs away or do not seem to care much about whether the lambs are eating well or not. There are some lambs who are too weak to get to their mother and the sheep-mother will just let those ones lie while she takes care of the healthier or more aggressive ones.
Maybe this is an evolutionary survival-of-the-fittest thing. Maybe some of the sheep-moms are just too lazy or too tired to bother making an extra effort. Whatever it is, those lambs would be doomed to probably fade away and die if it were not for the shepherd. When the mother sheep will not or cannot take care of its lamb, the shepherd or farmer can step in and feed the lamb by hand. It is labor intensive work, but a lamb without a mother can be fed with a bottle and grow into a healthy adult sheep. I helped to feed these lambs which are called “bummers.” It was fun to see how they could tell it was feeding time and would come running up to get at the bottle in my hands. They would poke and pull at my jeans until I gave them the bottle and they were so used to people you could scratch their heads as if they were a house pet.
In the Scripture Sunday we hear Jesus talk about himself like he was a shepherd. He uses this image to describe his relationship to those who believe in him. It is an image that shows how much he cares for them as he says, “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand.”
When I think of Jesus as a shepherd, I think about those lambs who were orphaned or were too weak to get to their mother. I think of the workers on our ranch who persistently and consistently went day after day, night after night down to the sheep shed to make sure those “bummer” lambs were fed no matter how long it took. When I hear Jesus say that no one can snatch us out of his hand I hear that same kind of persistence which pursues and coaxes us with care into not giving up. Can this image give us comfort when we are feeling abandoned or alone? Could it encourage us to carry on when we encounter difficult times?
-Pastor Erik Goehner