In a culture like ours, where rugged individualism is a high value, the idea of “flocking” or being “herded” isn’t too appealing. We’d prefer to see ourselves as individuals of worth, but not necessarily valued because of our connection to a community. It is closer to the truth to understand that, like sheep, we are social animals who need each other, need to belong, and we herd instinctively.
We can’t make it on our own — or at least not as well as we can make it when we’re aligned with a flock of others to provide comfort and security and a Shepherd to watch over our well-being. We need others and we need Christ. That’s the whole reason for a community — a real expression of what it means to be connected and protected in Christ.
Consider this important fact that shepherds know:
Sheep are intelligent. This is so contrary to what we’ve been taught about sheep. And, in some respects, they are quite dumb. They eat too much, right down to the root. They’ll drink contaminated water. When they fall, they often can’t get up without some assistance. And the herding thing — they tend to follow aimlessly and blindly and with no apparent destination in mind.
But this is only part of the story. Contrary to conventional wisdom that sheep are stupid animals, a study showed that sheep have remarkable memories, being able to pick out a particular face in a line of pictures, if that face is associated with a food reward. Some of the sheep in the study could remember up to 50 images for as long as two years.
Sheep also have keen hearing, which makes it possible for them to discern the voice of their shepherd from among others, and they will always move toward the person they perceive to be a friend, particularly if that friend feeds the sheep.
Yet the real issue is not that we, the sheep of His pasture, do not recognize the voice of our Shepherd. Rather, we recognize it and refuse to listen. Or we listen selectively. Sound familiar.