I was born into an unhappy flock. Oh, my mother was tender to me when she could be, but she had little energy to spare, for the pasture was sparse and the ground was stony, and other stronger sheep jostled and shoved for the best pasture and the sweetest grass. Being merely a young lamb, the least of them, weak and undernourished, I was often pushed aside and ignored.
It was a hard life. The strong rams, determined to snatch the best grass for themselves, would often trample destructively all over the more fragile pasture as they fought each other for the choicest sections. That meant there was even less left for the rest of us. And likewise they would charge straight into any safe water they could find (sheep will only drink from still water). By the time they had finished bullying their way in, they had churned it all up and the rest of us had nothing to drink until the waters settled again – and that could take hours while we waited in the heat of the day.
And the shepherds? They were no help to us at all. They took what they wanted from the flock, fleecing us for their own profit, but they took no care of us in return. They should have led us to rich pastures, where there was more than enough for everyone, and plentiful water for us all, but it was too much trouble. They would rather flirt with the girls, and practice their music, and rest in the shade of the trees. It is only now, when I know how a good shepherd cares for his flock, that I realise how very bad it was.
They took no care of the weak or the sick, and there was anarchy in the sheepfold. Sometimes sheep wandered off on their own, hungry for better pasture, tired of being pushed around and abused. The shepherds never even cared enough to notice they were gone, let alone go to the trouble of seeking them and bringing them back. We never saw those sheep again, and what became of them I have no idea.
One day a wolf crept up on the flock, and helped itself to a half-grown lamb. The sheep scattered in terror, panicked by the smell of blood and bleating with alarm. Eventually the commotion disturbed even the shepherds, who had been lolling under a tree eating figs and laughing at each others’ jokes. For a moment they remained stupefied, then one of them yelled, “It’s a wolf!”, and, instead of rushing in to save the sheep, they lifted their robes and bolted. We were utterly alone in a fierce and desolate world. The wolf, having eaten his fill, slunk off, and we huddled in uncertain little groups. It was a cold and dreadful night.
For several days we wandered, gradually drifting apart from one another, and one morning I woke to find myself alone. I was terrified. Surely others of my flock must be nearby, over the next hill, or the next? I started running, frantically bleating, and then ... I slipped. I could have been broken on the rocks below, but I landed on a ledge just a little way down, shaken and bruised, but still alive. And there I lay, for a day and a night, too frightened to move, and whimpering softly. Then, just as the grey dawn started to blush, there were footsteps, and a kind voice, and strong arms reaching down to lift me. The True Shepherd had come. He bound up my wounds and carried me home on his shoulders.
It is all so different now, for this flock is led by Love. This shepherd loves his sheep so much that he would even die for them. He gave me a name (I never had a name before), and that name is who I truly am. Whenever he calls me by that name, I will follow him. Sometimes the paths are hard and steep, but he will always help me when I am ready to falter. And then he brings his flock to a spacious place, where there is rich pasture for us all. We rest there, where there is no pushing or destroying, for there is abundance, and we are at peace. And at the rising and the setting of the sun he brings us to the still waters, the pools of his plenty, and our deepest thirst is satisfied. With this shepherd I fear no evil, for his love holds me and protects me all the days of my life. I am his forever.