“A person who is led like a sheep, a derogatory name for those who don’t agree with someone who holds a strong opinion about a belief or an action.”
I had never heard this term until one day recently. My friend had been called this because she had expressed that she felt that God wanted us to have a bigger table at church, meaning providing Communion to all who wished to share in this Holy Meal. It struck me as one more way to put down other people.
Because there is so much rigid animosity on both sides of politics and religion, I am drawn to think about the term and then the sheep. Jesus’ last command to Peter was to feed His sheep. So from that I get that Jesus thought His sheep were very important. Maybe being a sheeple is not such a bad thing providing you are following the Good Shepherd. However, we must be aware of what sheep are like and decide if we wish to remain one.
Many years ago just after moving to the mountains my husband and I attended a weekend of mountain crafts and exhibits at the Folk Art Center. One of the exhibits was a shepherd who demonstrated how to shear a sheep, the importance of doing so, and how they train border collies to be herders.
Sheep have no loyalty to one another. They are extremely fearful animals and the minute the shepherd entered the pen they all ran to the far corner, turned away from the shepherd, and ignored the sheep he chose that was bleating.
The shepherd picked up the sheep under its front legs and pulled it up against his shin so the sheep’s shoulder was against the shepherd’s leg. Sheep are over-domesticated. If their shoulders touch anything solid they freeze. If a sheep lies down in a field next to a rock and if the rock touches its shoulder, it will stay there until the shepherd moves it or it dies. It won’t get up to eat or drink or seek the flock or allow another sheep to move it. Therefore the sheep the shepherd grabbed was completely docile while he sheared it. If you decide you want to raise sheep, you have to have someone who will stay with them at all times, no vacations, no leaving them on their own for more than a day.
Sheep are not too bright. They wander and get distracted by food or water. If they are getting what they want, they don’t even notice if the rest of the flock has moved on. Shepherds train border collies and other herding dogs to keep the flock together. Shepherds go before the sheep to make clear a way. The dogs will nudge and bark until the sheep as a flock go in the direction the dog wants them to go.
One more thing we learned was that all sheep must be shorn at least once a year. If their coats are left to grow by the second year it is as if they are wearing not only a sweater but a heavy wool coat as well. They will die of a heat stroke in warm weather. Shearing might seem like a punishment. It is really something to give them comfort and improve their lives.
So maybe sheeple is not something one wants to be called. On the other hand, if the Shepherd one follows is a loving one, then the sheep will be safe. They will be totally dependent on Him, and we know from the Twenty-third Psalm what Jesus is like as our Good Shepherd.
He won’t let us want for anything. He will make us lie down in green pastures without any rocks. He’ll lead us beside still waters because sheep are so fearful of moving water they won’t drink. He will restore us when we are spent. He’ll lead us on the right path if we keep our eyes on Him. Even if we walk in a dark valley full of fearsome things He will be with us. His rod will fend off wild things and his crook will hook us if we fall and He’ll bring us to Him for safety. He’ll set a table before us in the sight of our enemies and he’ll anoint our heads with oil to heal our scratches where briars have penetrated our fleece. He will give us a cup of water that is full as we enter the fold for the night. So if Jesus is the Shepherd, the sheep will safely dwell in His house forever.
Now perhaps my friend and I need to ask who is our shepherd? Is he giving us what we need and is he removing what we don’t need? Is he looking ahead to see if the meadow is full of rocks? Is he able to see the true path, much less lead us along it? Will he feed us in a safe place next to gently flowing water? Will he risk his safety to defend us? Will he go out of his way to search for us and bring us back to the flock? Does he check us for injuries and administer healing to our wounds? Does he set a table for us, not just himself and his friends?
Are you a sheeple? If so, who is your shepherd?
For more faces & stories from our Congregation, click here.