“Let me set this before you as plainly as I can,” Jesus told them… “If a person climbs over or through the fence of a sheep pen instead of going through the gate, you know he’s up to no good—a sheep rustler! The shepherd walks right up to the gate. The gatekeeper opens the gate to him and the sheep recognize his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he gets them all out, he leads them and they follow because they are familiar with his voice. They won’t follow a stranger’s voice but will scatter because they aren’t used to the sound of it.”
As with many of Jesus’ parables, His followers were a bit baffled. Sheep?! What?
As much as that makes me laugh to recall, I decided to do a bit of research on sheep, and what I found out indicates that sheep are not, in fact, dumb — at least in relation to other farm animals. Pigs are a bit smarter, but sheep are no worse off than cattle in the brains department.
… Well, that makes me feel a whole lot better! Hah!
In addition to not being the village idiots of farm animals, I discovered four other characteristics of sheep:
1) Sheep are gregarious. They are social animals, but primarily sheep will band together and stay together while grazing for protection. Hebrews 10:25 urges us to “not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another —and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” We need to meet together not only to be social, but for our own protection. A lone sheep at the outskirts of the field is an easy target for the next predator who comes along.
2) Sheep will follow each other. If you can get one sheep to move, the whole flock will follow. This can be a good thing or a bad thing in ourselves, obviously. In its best form, our sheep-like tendency to follow one another is spelled out in 1 Corinthians 11:1: Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.
3) Sheep will move toward another sheep or friend. Shepherds are able to control the movement of their sheep by getting the sheep to see them as a friend — normally, this is done by feeding them, and doing so consistently so the sheep do not begin to see themselves as being tricked and refuse to follow. As shepherds of their own flocks, this obviously has an application for pastors. As Jesus told Peter in John 21, “Feed My sheep!” Feed them, and do so consistently.
4) Sheep maintain a flight distance between themselves and others. Sheep have their own “personal space”, so to speak. When relaxed, in normal circumstances, they tend to stand pretty close together. If a stranger or a dog appears, or something else that causes the perception of danger, the sheep will increase that personal space — they’ll back away, and if the danger moves toward them, they will run away. 2 Timothy 2:22 exhorts us to “flee the evil desires of youth” and to pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace.
Perhaps sheep are a little smarter than we are at times, when you look at it closely.