Dear Friends in Christ,
Human beings are frequently compared to sheep in the Scriptures – not, it has to be said, the smartest of animals. In Animal Farm, George Orwell depicted the pig as the most intelligent farm animal – for him sheep were easily manipulated and easily led. In his tale the sheep were good at chanting slogans but failed to think things through for themselves. The French poet Jean de la Fontaine said: ‘A certain fox, it is said, wanted to become a wolf; who can say no wolf has ever craved the life of a sheep?’
Sheep are vulnerable and needy; they need feeding, guiding and leading. They are prone to stray into danger. They are easy prey for such animals as foxes and wolves (both sly animals). On the more positive side, they are good at recognising the voice of the shepherd. If we are honest, we have to admit that the comparison of human beings and sheep is an apt one. The Anglican Book of Common Prayer includes the following confession in its liturgy: We have erred and strayed from the ways like lost sheep. We followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts.’ We are like sheep in the ways that we go astray, but the Lord is the Good Shepherd who leads us through the valley of the shadow of death to quiet verdant pastures.
How do we hear the voice of the Shepherd? In our prayer, through the Scriptures, through the teaching of the Church and through the light of our conscience. We all err and fall and walk in darkness, but the Lord’s voice is constantly calling us to life eternal. Jesus wants not one of his sheep to be lost. Our lives are a pilgrimage to the safe pasture of heaven and the gift of eternal life.
‘Looking beyond this life, my first prayer, aim and hope is that I may see God. The thought of being blessed with the sight of earthly friends’ pales before that thought. I believe that I shall never die; this awful prospect would crush men, were it not that I trusted and prayed that it would be an eternity in God’s presence. How is eternity a boon unless he goes with us? And for others dear to me, my prayer is that they may see God.’ (Bl. John Henry Newman)