Wednesday, January 14, 2009

All We Like Sheep

I found these sheep wandering on a hill overlooking Jerusalem, beside a church that commemorates the life of the prophet Elijah. Their caretaker is a Bethlehemite shepherd woman.

The scriptures continually refer to us in metaphor as sheep. Perhaps the most powerful example is from Isaiah's Suffering Servant song, "All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all" (Isaiah 53:6). Given that sheep are notoriously stupid animals, I don't think these constant references are a compliment. But despite my vainglorious pride and desire to be compared to a creature who is a bit more intelligent or regal, I have found great meaning in the metaphor. I, like these sheep, have a tendency to wander into places I shouldn't be. I have a tendency to get myself stuck in gullies and ditches, to step in holes and break my leg. I, as the sheep, cry piteously in complaint, bleating in protest at the unfairness of it all, until someone comes and rescues me--picks me up or shows me that the way out is right in front of me, if I would just quit whining.

I have the ability to be incredibly short-sighted, to not look much beyond the next clump of grass or the backside of the sheep in front of me. Sometimes I wander off the path, whether because I've been scattered by an enemy, or out of idleness or forgetfulness or rebelliousness--the result is the same. And I'm always amazed that the Lord finds it worth His while to come and find me and bring me back to Him. I'm humbled by His tenderness and love, by the way He continues to teach me and give me the strength and understanding to become more like Him. I have learned, though I suspect it is a lesson I will have to re-learn, that in Christ there is safety, peace, and direction. I know that He loves His sheep and that it distresses Him when we wander. He wants us to stay by His side, and has promised, "Behold, I, even I, will both search my sheep, and seek them out. As a shepherd seeketh out his flock in the day that he is among his sheep that are scattered; so will I seek out my sheep, and will deliver them out of all places where they have been scattered in the cloudy and dark day" (Ezekiel 34:11-12).

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