Saturday, 18 November 2017

Keep the Sheep

"Time to lose the sheep", says Ted Harrison in a clickbait article in the Church Times. Yeah, I took the bait, didn't I.

Ted Harrison's argument is that we shouldn't use sheep as metaphors any more because lots of people don't see sheep. Which might be fine but, let's face it, it's what Jesus and the Psalmist said. You can't easily drop another metaphor in because it would have to be about some other pastoral caring situation, and the same problem would occur with cows, goats, salmon farms and Aylesbury Ducks. Sheep are as good as anything else. Using some urban analogy like "teacher" or "pub landlord" or "supermarket manager and their staff" just ain't got that sense of interdependency.

And most people, at some stage, do see sheep. Even if it's from a car window or out of a train - there they are, all over the countryside, looking sheepish. It's what they do.

But then, if you lose the sheep, then Jesus's links to Passover are lost. And if you try to take the lamb out of Passover, you've got an inter-faith incident on your hands.

And if not sheep and shepherds what good are "fishers of men/women?" Barely anybody ever meets a fisherperson - probably even fewer than see sheep. How would you render Jesus' comment that even the Pharisees would untie their animal and lead it to water on the Sabbath? "Even you would drive your car to the Tesco filling station on a Sunday morning?"

Ted Harrison closes with the comment that it's unpalatable to refer to sheep because, after they've been cared for by the shepherd, they will be slaughtered in anger and eaten with mint sauce. Well, guess what? Same in Jesus' day. In the 1st Century people understood that metaphors have limits - that analogies break down. Why does Ted Harrison think we don't? Just how down would we be have to be dumbed for this to happen?

Basically, it's about incarnation, innit. Jesus was born and went about this earth at a certain time and a certain place. He encountered sheep, shepherds, fishers, Pharisees, Zealots and tax collectors. Replacing them with cars, traffic wardens, opinion pollsters, grumpy Archdruids, members of ISIS and Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs will not help. Because Jesus wasn't born in 1986. He was born a few years BC. Live with it, work with it, and understand it. Cos anything you do with it will be well-meaning, hippy-dippy, modernist and - let's be honest - rubbish.


  1. Also the Lamb of God was killed and, er, in my tradition we eat His Body and Blood...

    Oh, I see Ted Harrison pointed that one out too. It seems he doesn't have as much trouble with that, which is fair enough I guess.

    Does he think we're not supposed to expect to die at some stage? Just like sheep do?

    Jesus rose from the dead. If that can happen to the Lamb of God then maybe we can dare hope it might be what is in store for us.

  2. What surprises me in the article is the assertion that there are no sheep in London? Has he never been to Lamb's Conduit,in Camden where Black Sheep thrive or to the Urban Farm at Shooters Hill in South East London? I'm pretty sure that there are sheep in other places in Greater London and other major cities. I went to school in London, and we were taken on visits to the country to farms, where we saw sheep, as far back as the sixties. So, removing sheep from our worship is a poor call. Perhaps removing Ted Harrison would be a better choice.

    1. Lamb's Conduit was a conduit built to bring water to poor housing. It was built through the generosity of a Mr Lamb; c.f. Hobson's Conduit in Cambridge (he of Hobson's Choice).

      However, the right of freemen of the City of London to drive sheep over London Bridge, although apocryphal, has been exercised for publicity purposes in recent years.


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