Having had a little time to process our trip to Israel, I find a longing in my soul to go back. To be in those places that surprised me, filled me with awe, made me smile. To be in a place so filled with history that it puts my story into perspective.
Many things will stay with me. But one sight I know I won’t find this side of the pond is the number of shepherds leading flocks of sheep and goats along narrow craggy paths.
Much of Israel is naturally dry, more desert than oasis. The Israelis have worked hard to irrigate land and create agricultural areas that readily grow vegetables, fruit, date palms and more. And they use every bit of that land to plant crops to provide for themselves and for export.
Not so much to provide for the sheep and goats.
It’s quite a sight to see a flock following closely on one another’s heels as they move to areas of greener pastures. Every shepherd I saw appeared to be patiently leading, gathering, moving his stubborn mass of wool. The sheep clumped together, like five-year-olds playing soccer, bunching up around the ball as if afraid to miss something.
But as we sat in our bus at a stop sign watching this flock, I saw one lone sheep find a small, lush section of green. He didn’t hesitate. He didn’t look up. He stopped, dropped his head, and ate. And ate.
The shepherd was riding his donkey at the head of the flock. Every now and then he would look back slowly. When he saw his wayward sheep, he didn’t even stop his donkey. With an efficiency of motion, he looked down at his dog, raised his hand and pointed behind him, and the dog took off. He first barked at the sheep, and when that didn’t move him, he nipped at his heels. The sheep moved. Quickly.
I’ve not had a lot of experience with sheep, but there’s a reason Jesus refers to us as sheep. In that moment, I saw myself, wanting what I wanted when I wanted it, doing things my way. A stubborn sheep.
At times that plan looks so good, like the lush green grass of a field to a hungry sheep. But when I’m focused on my plan, I miss what I’m not looking for. That which could cause me harm. That which isn’t good for me. I can be arrogant in my oblivion. Because the truth is, sheep have no defense mechanisms. They have no way to fight off that which could hurt them.
“ALL OF US, like sheep, have strayed away. We have left God’s paths to follow our own. Yet the Lord laid on Him-Jesus-the sins of us all.” Isaiah 53:6
All of us wander away from the One who loves us best. So much in the world looks better in the moment. But the Good Shepherd-even while we were wandering away-gave Himself up for us. Perfect love. Amazing grace.
I really have to chew on that one.