Lately I have been thinking quite a bit about sheep, and not because of insomnia. I have am privileged to serve in two very different ‘worlds’ and these ‘worlds’ have been colliding! One ‘world’ is the world of the gritty inner-city Bible Study I lead three mornings a week. The other is the more bucolic world of a little country church where I preach twice a month as they search for a new pastor. When I agreed to this second world’s entrance into my life I assumed one was East and the other West and “never the twain shall meet”, but the same theme arose in both. The readings last Sunday in church were about sheep and this September we started a study of Matthew in our Study and Prayer times. We have been like a river of molasses as we have cascaded through the text. Folks do not like to miss anything and some whole studies have revolved around a verse or two. Recently we have been following the sending of the Twelve. Jesus: has taught about the Kingdom, has demonstrated, in power, the Kingdom, and now he is instructing and sending his disciples to do likewise.
In his instructions he says “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves” (Matt. 10:16). At this point I was reminded of one of my first sermons in Northern Quebec, in a Cree speaking church. I had a translator. I would say a phrase and he would translate it and I would say another phrase and so on. I glibly mentioned “Sheep” my translator took an extraordinarily long time to unpack my phrase. The Cree have little actual experience with sheep and I realized my sermon was going to be a snoozer if I kept repeating my phrase and having him explicate it. I had to edit the rest of message on the fly! It was a memorable experience. My inner-city friends also had little experience of sheep. Most have never even had a lamb chop! So we camped out among the sheep for a bit. We noted that the idea of going out as sheep among wolves sounded ominous. We all remembered Little Red Riding Hood and “My, what sharp teeth you have!” Wolves can be dangerous adversaries! So what is a sheep’s defense? Turtles have shells. Porcupines have their quills. Skunks … well they are skunky. The deer in the woods blend in to the background and are very quick. The only defense a sheep has is its shepherd! It is not viscious or fast. It has no quills or shell and is not particularly stinky. Left on its own it is a lamb chop on the hoof! Earlier in the narrative we had read that Jesus had compassion on them because they we harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd. The big stain glass we all see on our way to our study room is of “Jesus the Good Shepherd”. We have clued in that he sees us like sheep and he is sending us out as sheep into a world of wolves.
We are not to engage the ‘dog eat dog world’ as a wolf but rather as a sheep. The teachings of the Kingdom are to be our rule rather than the sharp toothed lessons of this fallen world. We engage with the Good News that there is another and better way. We demonstrate as Jesus did when “Like a lamb led to the slaughter” he did not use the world’s ways but silently endure the humiliation, out of love. And what is our defense? The Good Shepherd remains the only defense and the only defense necessary. The choice though remains ours we can choose to snarl and bite our way through life believing the lie that we are canines in ‘a dog eat dog world’ or we can live out our true identity as sheep protected and kept and led, even through the Valley of the Shadow of Death. It may take courage to choose to be a sheep. It does not seem the logically choice but that is because we have been deluded.
On another note I had a great conversation with one of my Street Hope Friends. The day before we had been talking about the power of encouragement. My friend told me that that night he was convicted that he had been discouraging a friend by the use of a nick name. She told me of her decision to no longer use these words with this friend. This may seem like a small thing to many readers but it means much to me to see our studies put into action!