Thursday, 26 April 2012

Shepherds and Sheep

Of course, I know all about sheep. You have to, living out here in the country. Some townies couldn't tell the difference between a sheep and a badger, but actually it's easy. A badger's a scary black-and-white animal with a vicious bite. Whereas a sheep's a scary woolly animal with a vicious bite. They go around looking all Larry-the-Lambkin and cute, and when you're not looking - whoomp, they'll have the wallet out of your coat. Of course, we involve sheep in worship occasionally - they tend to raise the IQ of the Beaker congregation, and I like to have church members who are easy to fleece.

It was no laughing matter for an ancient shepherd, you know, out in the wilds with the fleecy little beggars. One part of the shepherd's job was to guard the sheep from the wolves. But you'd also have to keep the sheep, fools that they are, from wandering away. Apparently sheep are kept in blocks of 100, and only one sneaks off at a time, which at least makes the counting easy. Although modern Britsh sheep are kind of stealth ninja sheep, capable of getting over cattle grids by commando-style tactics, the ancient Hebrew ovines were more conventional - their tricks normally revolving around falling off cliffs, drowning in brooks and lying down in green pastures. All of which the shepherd would have to be watching for.

And then there were all those wolves in sheep's clothing to look out for - something, presumably, that could only be achieved by one of those Whitehall-Farce style clothes swaps. In which case there would, somewhere out there, also be a corresponding number of sheep in wolves' clothing. And you can imagine the confusion that kind of thing could cause. A wolf in sheep's clothing would sneak in with the flock and then start eating them while nobody's looking. While a sheep in wolf's clothing would scare you off then eat all the best grass.

There's a very powerful story there, though. Of how the shepherd lives his life with the sheep - out in the hills, away from human company. Living through sun and snow, rain and gale. Sharing the experiences, knowing the sounds of nature. Being with the ewes when they're in lamb, bringing the new ones into the world - the sorrow of the dead, and the constant, endless bleating.
And then one day, some of the sheep team up with the wolves, and get the shepherd put to death for claiming to be the farmer. As I said, they're vicious things, sheep. You can never turn your back.

1 comment :

  1. "Whitehall-Farce style clothes swaps"

    I knew Whitehall had become a farce. But I didn't know they went in for clothes swaps in those government offices. Though Jeremy Hunt probably needs to swap into some women's or sheep's clothing to escape the wolves of the Press.


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