The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want
He makes me down to lie
Through pastures green He leadeth me the silent waters by.
With bright knives He releaseth my soul.
He maketh me to hang on hooks in high places.
He converteth me to lamb cutlets,
For lo, He hath great power, and great hunger.
When cometh the day we lowly ones,
Through quiet reflection, and great dedication
Master the art of karate,
Lo, we shall rise up,
And then we’ll make the bugger’s eyes water.
From the song “Sheep”
From Pink Floyd’s Animals Album 1977
Jesus often referred to Himself as the good shepherd and his followers as the flock. At the end of the Gospel of John, Peter is reinstated by Jesus telling him to “Feed my sheep.”
In a comment below by Christian Husband he makes reference to the importance of having a pastor to act as a shepherd for the flock, thus fulfilling the commission Jesus gave to Peter. This got me to thinking; what’s the difference between the sheep and the shepherd? How does one get to be a shepherd? If a person is a sheep, are they sheep forever?
Let’s talk a bit about sheep. From my animal science 114 class, I learned that sheep are similar to cattle that have a stomach with multiple compartments. Rumen, abomasum, omasum and reticulum, if you’re curious. The rumen is the powerhouse enabling the cattle and sheep to break down cellulose into digestible components through bacterial action. These creatures produce tons of methane gas, and there you have the basis for XH’s stinky reference. Lot‘s of greenhouse gas emissions are made by these animals. So your burgers are as responsible for global warming as your car if you follow that line of thinking.
As XH said, sheep are amazingly stupid. My neighbor raises sheep, and he describes them as “animals just looking for an excuse to die.” They are vulnerable to bad weather, bad terrain, bad feed, bad dogs, coyotes, lions and wolves. When threatened or excited, they bunch up and bleat and just look dumb. They are extremely gregarious. In fact this is what makes them relatively easy to herd as opposed to cattle or chickens of cats. They like to stick together and if you want to get sheep to go somewhere you get a couple of them and take them where you want the others to go, and the flock usually follows. The male sheep (rams) can be a bit aggressive sometimes, but they don’t compare to their goat cousins.
When it comes to protecting sheep, shepherds and farmers have used a variety of strategies over the years. Normally, it’s not rocket science. Even a young boy can take care of a decent sized flock which is what David was doing while his brothers were doing more important things like fighting for the king. However there were times when it was difficult as in cold weather, storms or in David’s case having to fight off a lion. As long as animals or rustlers weren’t threatening, it was a very boring and lonely job.
Today, farmers and ranchers in the eastern part of the country raise sheep in smaller spaces so protection is easier. But there are still threats from wild dogs and coyotes around these parts. But my neighbor discovered the perfect protector for his sheep. It’s not a shepherd. It’s not a dog. It’s not a duck.
It’s a donkey.
That’s right. The donkey is the best protector for his flock because a donkey will fearlessly, stubbornly and ferociously attack any dogs or coyotes foolish enough to enter the sheep pen. And that might say something about modern day pastors. You too can protect the flock if you’re a big enough ass!
XH also mused about how such stupid animals could have ever survived in the wild. The answer is that they would not have. The reason why these animals are so stupid and helpless is because humans made them that way! The way you create a stupid animal that can’t survive in the wild is to domesticate them to the point where they are totally helpless without constant human intervention protection and support. We do that because we don’t want them running off. We want them to stay with us and to rely on us. In the process we create dependent animals. Most dogs have been domesticated into perpetual adolescence and stupidity the same way and for the same reason. Through selective breeding we have been able to de-evolve these animals to make them less intelligent and we’ve purposefully designed them to serve our needs. As farmers and ranchers we’ve been pretty much playing god and have become the ones who decide almost every significant aspect of a sheep’s life. The sheep are the way they are because that’s the way we want it. How easy do you think it would be to shear a sheep if it wasn’t docile, passive and stupid? In return for that, we provide all the food and protection for them.
Is this the sort of dependent relationship that Jesus was referring to? And did He expect the sheep to remain sheep perpetually?
I think there will always be people who will prefer the role of sheep. After all, the shepherd assumes all of the responsibility. All the sheep really have to do is provide for themselves and the shepherd and in many churches this is the way it is. The people pay their money and expect the clergy to do the rest. As sheep, there aren’t all that many expectations fit to be put on them.
In churches today, people are kept in a state of perpetual domestication because it suits the shepherd. What choice does he have? If he lets the flock run wild, he will not be able to control them. And the more sheep a shepherd has in his flock, the better off he is materially as well as in reputation. If he divides the flock with another shepherd, that’s so much less money and prestige for himself. So it’s in his best interest to keep the sheep relatively domesticated. But is this all we are to aspire to?
I keep thinking of this scene in that old movie Porky’s II where the minister and his congregation are in the school office:
Reverend Flavel: Blaspehmy! Shakespeare must go! So sayeth the Shepherd!
The Flock Members: SO SAYETH THE FLOCK!
Reverend Flavel: And what sayeth you, Mr. Carter?
Carter: [very angry at this point] Get the Flock out of here!
[the students all start cheering]
Reverend Flavel: This means war! HOLY WAR! Flock! FOLLOW!
I’ll never understand why that movie didn’t get an academy award nomination.
I want you to think about a couple of things. First, Jesus really only recognized one church office in Matthew 23, and it was that of the Pharisee. (The scribes and Pharisees are almost always linked together, and Paul in his former life was linked to both. This is in effect a single office) Read the entire chapter to see the views of Jesus on Pharisees. And this is really how the modern day clergy function today in the authoritarian Christian sects that Christian Husband speaks of. The Pharisees came into being in order to protect the Jewish people from heresy during and after their exile. They were ministers, leaders of worship and evangelists. They were the professional clergy, the shepherds and the authorities in the prevailing religious culture. Not many pastors would embrace the title of Pharisee nowadays, but that is, in fact, how many (most) function.
The last thing is this: what about the Holy Spirit? In the Old Testament, God’s spirit rested on select members of the people. But with Pentecost there was an outpouring of the spirit and this was presumed to be available to all believers. And yet today we see a very few who are actually exercising their gifts. Could the professional clergy as it exists today be squelching the Holy Spirit by accident or design?
I’m not singling out the Church Growth Churches, here. Too see that, you’ll have to visit my other blog.