Sheep are not cool animals.
Lions are cool. Eagles are cool. Swans are cool. Wild horses are cool. Even geese are cool, at least when you can turn them into a team that shares leadership. (If it weren’t for figuring out leadership lessons from geese, they would just be messy pests.)
The rest of the cool animals stand out. They run free. They dominate. They lead.
They aren’t sheep.
Sheep, on the other hand, are placid dumb creatures, good for wool, and sometimes for chops. They are led to the slaughter. They are are perfect for cloning because their very name is plural.
So why does Jesus pick sheep as his metaphor? Because the shepherd is a thread that his audience should have understood. A quick search for the word shepherd at Biblegateway.com gives us 113 references.
We read that Jacob was a shepherd. His name was changed to Israel (as in the nation). When the Israelites went to Egypt, they were shoved off in a corner of the country because shepherds were, well, transient trash. When Israel went looking for a second king, God found them David. He was the youngest son, good only for being a shepherd. When God talks through Jeremiah and Ezekiel about abusive rulers and religious leaders, he talks about lousy shepherds.
By the time Jesus was talking about shepherds, those with any discernment should have seen two clear lessons:
- From a human perspective, shepherds are at the bottom of society.
- From God’s perspective, shepherds should teach leaders how to care.
And so, in John 10, when Jesus is talking about being a shepherd, he’s positioning himself with the bottom of society… and with the royal line of Israel.
Small interest to those who fancy themselves lions and eagles and wild horses. Great comfort to lost sheep.