My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. (John 10:27-28)
Know that the LORD is God! It is he that made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him, bless his name! (Psalms 100:3-4)
Throughout the Bible, we find references to our being sheep in God’s flock. Sheep are considered by many farmers as being rather stupid animals. The Church embraces that we are sheep but sometimes in the church hymns we are referred to as ‘rational’ sheep to indicate we have some intelligence as well as self-initiative and free will. Sheep are perceived of as being gentle animals who fail to take even the most basic steps to protect or help themselves and so are savaged by wolves. This is why shepherds are needed – to help protect these creatures which do nothing to protect themselves. Still it is interesting that God sees us as the sheep of His pasture – what does that tell us about how we are to live and behave in this world?
“As long as we continue to behave as sheep, we are victorious. Even if ten thousand wolves surround us, we conquer and are victorious. But the moment we become wolves, we are conquered, for we lose the help of the shepherd. He is the shepherd of sheep, not of wolves… Jesus says, “My way makes you more glorious and proclaims my power … My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. This is the way I made you.” (St John Chrysostom quoted in SEEKING JESUS IN THE OLD TESTAMENT, p 25)
Sheep do not seek vengeance, do not engage in violent resistance nor do they practice self-preservation. The imagery of us as God’s flock of sheep also reminds us of our dependence on the Good Shepherd to save us. That is the imagery Chrysostom calls upon in the quote above. We are always to be sheep, never wolves. We conquer as Christians by remaining sheep and turning to the Good Shepherd in all times of affliction for His help. St Gregory Palamas also reminds us of the good virtues we can observe in sheep: meek and gentle. These are not traits we humans always admire or wish to emulate. We often prefer warrior champions as our models of humans. God however chooses sheep as the image for His people.
“The Holy Gospel says, in accordance with this, that in those days, ‘before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth the sheep from the goats‘ (Matt 25:32). He calls the righteous sheep because they are meek and gentle, walk the level path of the virtues that He trod, and are like Him. For he was Himself called a lamb by the Forerunner and Baptist who said, ‘Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world‘ (John 1:29). The sinners He calls goats because they are audacious and unruly, and rush down the precipices of sin.” (St Gregory Palamas, THE HOMILIES, p 28)
In the book of Revelation, it is the Lamb of God who conquers and sits on the throne with the Father. “For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water; and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” (Revelation 7:17) Again, an interesting metaphor for our Lord, the conqueror of hell. He is a lamb, not a dragon, not a wolf. We like the image of Christ Pantocrator enthroned in power in the heavens. His throne is the cross for there he reveals to us the nature of God – a lamb.