I was in Scotland driving to Livingston when I saw the all the red … what? Cotton wool on legs? Sheep with big red jumpers on them? (Seems unnecessarily redundant.) As I got closer I could see that they were just sheep but sprayed – not just a little as I’m used to see-ing – but pretty well all over with bright red dye! It did look good against the grass and occa-sional left over snow! An uplifting moment. I smiled. (I later found out that the farmer is noted locally for wanting to bring cheer to the community and since he has to dip his sheep why not add some colour.)
Not all my travelling made me smile this time and I drove past many paddocks with lots of sheep. I saw a lamb just born – literally seconds before as I drove past – no maternity screens in the wild. I saw lots of lambs jumping and running and frolicking. Did you know that lambs can seem to do a standing jump – no preparation it seemed to me – just straight up in the air like being pulled by an invisible puppeteer? Impressive. However I also saw too many lambs wandering, it seemed to me, by them-selves; too many lying down for my ‘city’ liking; too many too still.
This winter has been brutal for sheep with huge losses. The two sheep that survived under snow for 23 days in Northern Ireland are rare indeed. The farmers – I don’t think of the word ‘shepherd’ here but maybe I should – are also doing it tough in places with huge stock losses. Some are skimping on their own food to provide food for their flock. Behind the often rugged exterior produced by tough weather can be found a tender heart that doesn’t want to see death – even though farmers are possibly some of the world’s clear eyed realists about this world’s cycles of birth and death. It can extend to the caring of just one – extraordinary care.
Today the Christian Church also considers sheep and shepherds. The linking of us as sheep isn’t usually flattering (but apt) but the linking of God as shepherd is particularly bizarre. God is too great – too ‘above’ – too … everything in our imaginations, drawings, and expectations of what God should be to be a shepherd. You mean a real shepherd …? One who walks with, lives with, endures with sheep? No – that’s not a picture one would expect.
Then along came God in the Old Testament who chose a shepherd for a king, who talked about caring for his people as a shepherd himself and then sent his son who described him-self as a ‘good shepherd’ – the one who will actually give up his life for the sheep. Now it’s positively getting weird! Dying for sheep?!
And Christians nod. Yes, this is our God. Yes, I can be a sheep in his flock. The world might think it all weird but this relationship with this God – no matter the sunny days or the winter blizzards – is like nothing on earth. — GS