A couple years ago, I wrote a play for the younger homeschoolers in Sioux City that was about sheep and the Good Shepherd. Basically, I made a list of every sheep reference in the Bible -- and there's a LOT of them -- and pulled them all together into a storyline. It was more of a challenge than I was expecting when I conceived the idea. I didn't like the script at first, but in the end, I had several people tell me it was one of their favorite of my plays.
All this to say, I am well acquainted with the Biblical discussion of sheep and have developed a fondness for the analogy. So when I read in Matthew in our BSF lesson that Jesus told the disciples he was sending them out "like sheep among wolves", I perked up.
Amy, our teaching leader, noted something about sheep last night. They're dumb. Really, they're not all that bright. In fact, they are not even able to forage and find food on their own, like a goat would. Sheep have to be taken to places where food is readily available, or they will starve.
They also, I learned in my own research for writing the play, can't distinguish a safe plant from a poisonous plant. A shepherd has to go ahead of them and pull out any grasses that would be dangerous for them to eat. This is actually what is meant in Psalm 23 when it says, "You have prepared a table for me."
Sheep NEED a shepherd. Sheep literally can't survive on their own; they only survive when they depend entirely on a good shepherd to take for them. (Which makes one wonder how they ever would have evolved and continued to propagate before humans were around to care for them . . . but I digress.)
In my play, I had one rebellious character, Felicia, who insisted that there was no such thing as a good shepherd and kept "crawling the fence", trying to find a way out of the sheepfold. When she finally got out, she immediately got herself lost and stuck in a ravine. And that's when she discovered that her shepherd was truly a Good Shepherd -- he sought her out, rescued her, bound her wounds, and lovingly brought her back to the fold. Because he loved her and knew her for what she was: a dumb, dependent, but beloved sheep.
And WE are sheep. We are made to be dependent on someone else. Dependent on God, of course, in the greatest sense. But I think we are also supposed to be dependent on each other -- our families, our neighbors, our churches . . . the American Way aside, we are not meant to live individualistic lives.
It's not coincidence, I'm sure, that in Jesus' analogy of the sheep and the goats, the self-reliant, independent goats are the ones sent to damnation, while the dumb, dependent sheep are welcomed into the kingdom. Pride is the root of all sin, after all. Not only is God unimpressed with the work we do on our own apart from him (even if we're doing it FOR him) -- but we simply prove that we have missed the point of the gospel completely.
One should be cautious of any value being promoted to us that begins with the word "self": self-reliance, self-esteem, self-actualization, self-worth . . . you can't ever get to genuine relationship or community -- with God or anyone -- if you begin with self.