Who defends the sheep?


Recently on a long car trip, our family enjoyed listening to the George Orwell classic “Animal Farm” on audio book.

Though several of the themes related to communism required extra explanation, the role of the pig, Squealer, was not hard for the children to understand. As representative of the official government narrative, he lied. He lied constantly. At times it seemed his sole job required he lead the other animals on the farm to doubt the things they knew and experienced previously. Against one who lies without compunction, what could the good-natured animals do? Against those with no regard for life, how do the righteous survive? When the virtues of virtuous people are used as a cudgel against them by the scoundrel, how can the good endure?

In Matthew 10, Jesus readied his inexperienced followers to be sent among the local towns and villages proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God and healing the sick. However, his initial pep talk seems less than encouraging! He gives them a short parable which must have left them questioning their safety. He said, “Go nowhere among the non-Jews and enter no town of the Samaritans. Rather, go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. … Look, I am sending you out as sheep among wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:5, 16.)

Previously in Matt 7, Jesus warned of false prophets who functioned among the people as wolves dressed like sheep — deceiving the sheep into believing there was camaraderie where only treachery existed. Here Jesus instructs his emissaries to go among those sheep who are estranged from God, wandering lost away from his protection. Yet, in their going, he also equates them to sheep saying, “I am sending you out as sheep among wolves.” Both the recipients and the messengers are sheep.

Remarkable among the animal kingdom, sheep have no natural means of self-defense. They possess neither great speed nor great intelligence. In an evolutionary model, they would never have been fit enough to survive the predators, such as wolves, eyeing them for a tasty snack. Yet humans recognized their value, and have been their protectors.

As sheep, we could try the discrete behavior of a snake and the harmless actions of a dove as Jesus instructs. We can keep our noses down — calmly doing our thing munching grass and growing our hair — but to truly survive and thrive we need protection.

It is not weakness to admit I need God’s protective ways in my life. It is not weakness to admit I need the defense of a kind shepherd.

As the heir of King David, the Jewish Messiah bears the name shepherd. In Micah 5:4, the oracle says, “He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD; in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they will dwell secure, for now he will be great to the ends of the earth.” God himself defends the sheep, as does his chosen representative.

When Jesus sends out these beloved disciples as sheep among other lost sheep, he is not damning them to a vicious, bloody demise at the fangs of the wolves — his God, his life, his teachings, and later even his death defend them.

Kyle A. Kettering graduated from Xenia Christian High School in 1998, Cedarville University in 2004, and Nyack’s Alliance Theological Seminary in 2017 with a degree in ancient Judaism and Christian origins. Kettering serves as a teaching elder at Church of the Messiah in Xenia.

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