On Being Lead by Sheep


I started thinking about sheep and shepherds after a friend and colleague, Hugh Farquhar, posted a blog about the shepherd as image for ministry. (Hugh’s blog which I highly commend can be found at: http://clergyselfcare.wordpress.com/).

There are not many sheep in downtown Riverview. Actually, I don’t think I’ve ever seen any wandering around in the downtown core. Meanwhile in Palestine, they are everywhere – from remote Bedouin camps to just outside the walls of the “Old City” in Jerusalem.

I’ve noticed shepherds spent most of their time just hanging out with their flock. They are sort of half watching them but for the most part they let the sheep be sheep. I’m not sure what the shepherds are actually thinking about. I imagine they are focussed on the things I would be considering like: the agenda for the next annual meeting for the sheep or how to reduce the overall debt load carried by the flock or which sheep need to have particular attention paid to them because they seem to be needy. Meanwhile the sheep are busy being sheep.

When it comes to moving the herd, I’ve also noticed the shepherds are usually not out front. The sheep usually know where they are going so they just keep moving. The shepherd is often at the back or along the side of the flock keeping them together.

Last Friday I was at a protest being held in Al Masara a few km. outside of Bethlehem. This is a weekly gathering to express concern about the continuing expansion of an illegal settlement encroaching on the Palestinian village. (By the way, all Israeli settlements in Palestine are illegal under the Geneva Convention.)

I would like to invite you to envision the following scene, about 30 Israeli military in riot gear facing an equal number of protestors. The two sides are standing face to face, nose to nose with tension filling the air. Then suddenly and without warning a flock of sheep burst through the line of protestors. Then the military step aside to avoid being run over by the sheep who are intent on getting back to grazing.

After the sheep moved through the protesters quickly returned to being protesters and the military to being the military. The two groups resumed their places as if nothing had happened. At first this scene just struck me as humourous. Then because of Hugh’s blog I remembered Isaiah 11: 6-9,

6 The wolf will live with the lamb,
the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling together;
and a little child will lead them.
7 The cow will feed with the bear,
their young will lie down together,
and the lion will eat straw like the ox.
8 The infant will play near the cobra’s den,
and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest.
9 They will neither harm nor destroy
on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.

Soldiers and protestors – seemingly enemies were in the blink of an eye united in ensuring that sheep could safely get on with being sheep.

Perhaps the sheep showed a more excellent way.

I wonder if any of them soldiers returned home and considered the irony of blocking people but letting sheep pass through their lines? I also wonder if in a few years these people might all look back and recognize the need for peace with justice for all.

Peace seems like a complicated issue in this land. Peace with justice seems even more complicated.

Yet, God’s greatest desire for us is to live out the reality of the peaceable kingdom. A reality where: sheep safely and freely graze, where wolves live with lambs, where Jews and Muslims and Christians together share the abundance of all God has provided. A place where all will live together in peace and harmony.

May the day soon come when all will experience the peace that God desires for all.

About Steve Berube

I am a team minister at St. Paul's United Church in Riverview, NB, Canada. I served as a human rights observer in Bethlehem while on sabbatical in the Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) of the World Council of Churches.
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4 Responses to On Being Lead by Sheep

  1. Andy says:

    I like the image of the sheep knowing where they’re going, and the shepherd just being alongside or behind. And I love that you saw a glimpse of Isaiah’s vision break through. Awesome!

    • Leslie Robinson says:

      Wonderful to hear about your time in Bethlehem, Steve. Thank you for bringing the people’s own perspective to life for us all. Stay safe.

  2. Yvette Swan says:

    I really appreciate this analogy and the use of the quotation from Isaiah. One day we will have to realise that we are all the same regardless of our differences. Thanks for these words Steve.

  3. Shirley kirkpatrick says:

    Hi Steve, it seems that the way to uncomplicate things would be to walk a mile in another’s shoes down that dusty road. Remove the masks of the lion, viper and bear and become the “other” in doing so. Perhaps it is an over simplistic viewpoint but unless we become more like children , who basically love and forgive everyone we will continue to live in an unjust world. it begins in the heart of every human being and spreads outward. You have to want peace! Shirley K

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