Sunday 22 April 2018

Shepherd and Sheep

When I was younger - not young, just younger - I was very fond of a range of crockery called "Shepherd and Sheep". I was particularly fond of the "Breakfast Mug". Mostly because it was huge. You could take a swim in that mug, imbibing coffee as you went round in circles until, when you had drunk it all,  you wondered how you would climb out.

OK. It may have grown in my memory. But it was a seriously sized coffee mug. Capable of giving great emotional support. Sadly, unlike Beryl crockery, which is immortal and will alone survive the heat death of the universe, my mug was broken. I miss it.

Beaker Sheep. Or are they goats?

The sheep on the mug weren't your actual Herdwicks, Leicesters and Swaledales however. Though these are all very popular in modern culture, on posters, mugs and Twitter. No, these were yer fluffy, "cloud on four sticks" sheep.

And you know - and I know - that sheep aren't really big fluffy cotton wool balls. Though they're fine things to see, a herd in a nice rolling middle England field. Sheep are real creatures, with an interesting range of diseases, able to get themselves into all kinds of scrapes and yet incapable of getting themselves off their backs if  they topple over. Which is rather a design flaw.

 But maybe we unconsciously make  that same kind of assumption when we think of Jesus  the  Good Shepherd.The stained glass of a caring chap holding the one lost sheep - which is in fact a lamb, for maximum effect.

Now I can't say I've ever lived the life of a shepherd. When I was young my family were friends with a shepherd and his family. And we played on their farm, and fell in the river there. But I never really knew much about what life was like as the shepherd. Maybe because the farm they lived on was haunted by the ghost of a highwaywoman, and when you've got that bit of information you don't pay much attention to the more mundane details.

But I've read Far from the Madding Crowd - which goes back to a time before shepherds started using quad bikes, and even before the modern border collie was developed. So I can tell you what the life of a shepherd was like, a bit. It was pretty brutal. You had to be up all night in the early months of the year, in case a ewe had trouble giving birth. If a ewe did lose her lamb, the shepherd would skin it and wrap the skin round a twin from another ewe, so the bereaved ewe would accept it. You had to deal with dark and danger and loneliness. And your life was utterly caught up in the sheep's. When Gabriel Oak loses his sheep, he's effectively made his life hopeless.
Not to be trusted

And that's where Jesus is the Good Shepherd. Not just wandering by still waters and green pastures - though it's good when we're there. But in amongst valley of the shadow of death - in the dark times. In the dark places. A good shepherd was with the sheep through the cold and fear of a long winter night. The Good Shepherd cares for the sheep so much, that to save the sheep he's prepared to die for them.

And so that's the relationship that Jesus has with us. A guide, a protector, a comfort - and one who is alongside us. In sunny pastures and dark valleys, sunny days and dark nights - till we're called home for the last time, to live in his house, and look upon his face forever.

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From Amazon, Sarum Bookshop, The Bible Readers Fellowship and other good Christian bookshops. An excellent book for your churchgoing friends, relatives or vicar. By the creator of the Beaker Folk.


  1. This is very good. Thank you.

  2. The lamb skinning is still normal practice for getting abandoned (or third of triplets) lambs adopted by a ewe who has had a stillbirth.


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