The Bible is filled with images, and those images are filled with meaning and beauty. But what happens when a biblical image may not have the same meaning today?
For example, consider the image of God's people as sheep — livestock. As a metaphor for the people in the pews.
“Hey, Kinnon." you say. "It’s biblical.”
Indeed, madam. You are correct! Sheep as a metaphor for God’s people is, in fact, to be found in the Scriptures.
Sheep were highly valued. Then.
Think of Jesus’ story of the one lost sheep, and the shepherd who left the 99 to search for that one.
I would suggest we view sheep as having much less value today — if we view them at all.
And what of the shepherds? Well, then they were were possibly the lowest of the gainfully employed. (Think of Jesse not even considering having his youngest son, David, the shepherd, later to be consecrated by Samuel.) Shepherds lived with their sheep. They smelled like their sheep. They knew each one by name. A single shepherd tended no more than 100 sheep in New Testament times.
Today, returning to the church livestock metaphor, a shepherd (or pastor, in its Latinate form) with only 100 sheep would be considered a failure. And how could any “successful” shepherd be expected to know all of “his/her” sheep.
Might I suggest the metaphor breaks down in its present usage within the church. And that this misused/misunderstood metaphor is responsible for much damaging separation between those who call themselves shepherds and “their” sheep — as if the shepherds are their owners. (Sheep cannot be stolen — except from their owners.)
Might I further suggest that the use of the phrase “sheep-stealing” is particularly bizarre amongst those who call us to be missionally-minded.
The reality is that we are all sheep. Or none of us are. (Shall we save the goats for another conversation?)
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