In central Ireland, where Jake and I lived for a season, there are more sheep than people.
Everywhere you go you can see groups of wooly sheep in the fields behind green hedges and gray stone walls.
One Sunday we were rushing on our way to church.
Wait. The rushing part is not true.
My Lovely Man does not drive fast, but for the passenger (me) sitting on the left side of the car, going down the left side of those narrow roads, super-close to those rock walls and hedges, well, it felt like rushing.
So there we were, on our way to church, when I saw a sheep alone in a field, floundering on her back.
Oh, no! A cast sheep! She needs help!
Years before I had heard a lecture on sheep and I remember the teacher explaining how cast sheep can become distressed and die within a short period of time if someone doesn’t come along soon to push it back on its feet.
We did not stop, and the image of that troubled sheep troubled me. I hope someone rescued her. And I wanted to know what I should do if I ever saw a cast sheep again.
That week I went around our village of Ballygar, asking, “Do you know about sheep? What should I do if I see one lying on its back?”
Butcher M. didn’t know.
On a walk, I saw Farmer F., standing outside his barn. He raised cattle so he told me to go that-a-way and find a proper sheep man to ask.
In the little store, I met a man named J., checking lottery tickets. I asked him about cast sheep. He told me when he sees a cast sheep, he hops over the wall and pushes it right on to its feet.
He said I should do that, too.
I agreed with him – until I talked with P. at the Coffee Drop. “No,” he told me. “You shouldn’t go in the field. Farmers don’t like trespassers and there might be a bull.”
Teacher S. piped in. “It’s a shame, the sheep might die, but you can’t get involved. Too risky. You have to leave ‘em be.”
Just “leave ‘em be”?
I didn’t want to do that.
But I am afraid of bulls . . .
Fortunately I never saw another cast sheep.
I’m not telling you something you don’t already know, but here it is. The Bible has many references to Jesus’ followers being like sheep. You’ve probably heard sermons about characteristics of sheep, their dirtiness and dumbness, their many needs and fears.
It feels kind of insulting.
But it also feels true.
And it is very comforting.
If I am honest, I see my sheep-likeness. Dumb, needy, fearful and prone to be cast down.
Sometimes way down. Floundering and flailing in my faith.
But there is a Good Shepherd! (Think Ps. 23)
I belong to Him, and to His flock, with all my sheepish friends.
We are all like sheep (Is 53:6), we like to go our own way, we are indeed weak and fearful and we all get cast down.
But oh, the comfort! We have a Good Shepherd, Jesus, who loves His sheep, each one.
He knows where they are, and what they need.
And He will never just ‘leave ‘em be.’