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Of Sheep and Men.
Tuesday, May 18, 2010
The nucleus of a homily by a learned and wise professor and priest.
Sheep are mentioned more than 500 times in Scripture, which is
significantly more than any other animal. In both the Old Testament and
the New Testament, sheep are the favorite analogy in describing people
and their relationship with the Father in heaven. We are sheep. While
being sheep of our Lord’s flock is a blessing, it isn’t much of a
compliment, I am afraid!
But maybe it is; let’s see and have a closer look.
There are quite some negative traits that can be pointed out about sheep:
- Sheep of all domestic animals require the most care and
supervision. Left to themselves, sheep have an unlimited capacity for
getting into trouble.
- Sheep are compelled by mob instinct. Sheep take their queues
from each other. If one sheep panics, they all panic. They tend to go
with the flow, even if the flow is going in the wrong direction. They
have a tendency to wander off. Sheep are forever getting lost.
- Sheep are very susceptible to fear. The average sheep is a
coward. One loud noise of any kind – it doesn’t have to be the howl of a
wolf – sends the flock in every direction. When confronted with
danger, sheep panic.
- Sheep are very destructive. Sheep have the very bad habit of
being very hard on the pasture. When they graze they don’t trim the
grass they eat. They bite down and pull up, removing the roots, and not
only the stems.
- Sheep are very vulnerable to predators. Among animals, sheep are wimps. They are weak, slow, stupid and defenseless.
- Sheep have an incredible ability to get dirty. They easily
turn every shade of gray and brown imaginable. Sheep get dirty and stay
that way until somebody cleans them up.
Whether we like it or not, we are in many ways like sheep. As time
passes we get dirty, until it becomes obvious that we need a good
cleaning. God offers a good cleaning in the Sacrament of Confession.
We require more care than any other animal and God loves to give us that
care. We have a mob instinct, but when that is channeled, it can
become a great show of unity. We are subject to fear, but he gives us
courage and the peace that surpasses all our understanding. We are also
timid, but he makes us brave. All of us have a tendency to wander off
now and then, but our shepherd always finds us. He forgives us and
cleans us so that we are ever presentable to God the Father.
The most important thing is that sheep are clearly
God’s favorite animals. In a world filled with majestic animals like
lions, horses and eagles, the Lord chose sheep. And there isn’t a
better metaphor in Scripture for our relationship to God. We are his
sheep. God’s sheep have a special role to play in God’s plan:
- Sheep have horns. The first trumpets were ram’s horns. Those
ram’s horns or trumpets were announcing the presence of the Lord (see
Joshua.) They were instruments of praise. They were part of a mighty
victory. The trumpet sound was made with a ram’s horn. That means that
sheep can literally be instruments of praise.
We, being the Lord’s sheep, can announce his presence and majesty.
- Sheep are the favorite meat in the Middle East; they also
give us milk and wool. Sheepskins are used for shelter and clothing.
Sheep bones can be made into sewing needles and are used as scraping
tools. Intestines are made into strings for musical instruments. There
is much goodness and usefulness in sheep. Nothing or almost nothing is
We can be instruments of God’s bounty and mercy, more
effectively than any sheep that ever lived. What being God’s sheep
means more than anything is that we have great potential in God’s plan.
Once in his flock, even our weaknesses become strengths.
- Sheep plant seeds that will ensure future pastures. In
biblical times, sheep were instrumental in planting seeds. During
harvest, wheat seeds were knocked from the wheat stalks onto the ground.
They would lay on the surface and be eaten by the birds. This is when
shepherds would bring their flocks into the fields. The pointed cloven
hooves of the sheep would make holes one-half to one inch deep, and the
seed would be pressed into the ground.
Seed planting is one of our main responsibilities as
part of God’s flock. God’s word must be pressed into the ground of our
minds and hearts. The harvest will be the Kingdom of God.
With all this, how can we still doubt that we are God’s favorite
animal? And should some doubt still linger, think of this: I am one of
God’s sheep, and he was willing to die for me. Nothing we have ever
done declares our value in God’s eye more than Christ’s death for us.
At that historic moment, Jesus laid down his life on the cross for his
sheep, and we became priceless. Even the least of Christ’s sheep is of
more value than anything else on earth, and the same price was paid for
all of us. We may then conclude with Erasmus of Rotterdam: “O dumb
sheep you! Did it ever dawn on you that it has pleased God to save the
world by foolishness, since it could never be redeemed by wisdom?”
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