Eh up, it’s tough being a shepherd in Palestine. Out in the fields in all weathers, blistering heat, freezing cold, out all night when the sheep are mating. Unclean – not that I notice the constant smell of sheep muck, and the fleas from the sheep, but I do notice that respectable people keep their distance from us! Because of the hours we work and because we’re dirty, we can’t get to the synagogue to worship, so respectable people look down on us as irreligious. And because I’m a shepherd ordinary people always make jokes about me, to make out I’m thick or something. One day, not so long ago, this rabbi came by, and he was telling stories, and one of his stories was about a hopeless shepherd who managed to lose one of his hundred sheep, and the crowd were all laughing like, and saying, typical shepherd, not bright enough to count to a hundred, and in this story the shepherd then abandons the other 99 to their fate, and risks losing everything, just to go and find this one lost sheep, and the crowd are going 'Durr, now he’s lost one sheep and now he’s about to lose all the others too, the owners are going to be real mad'; and then suddenly he finds that lost sheep, gone and got itself stuck in a ravine again and he’s so excited that he says, ‘Come on Hilda, there you are’ and picks up the sheep, fleas and muck and all, and puts it round his neck to carry it home – and the crowd are laughing – typical shepherd, bit more muck won’t make much difference, and why don’t he let the sheep walk home anyway, she’s got four legs, one at each corner and in this story, when the shepherd gets home he’s so excited he goes and tells everyone that he’s found the lost sheep – I’d of kept quiet you know, hoping no one found out that I’d lost it in the first place, and certainly not that I’d risked losing the other 99 to find it! And just when I thought oh no, I’m the butt of yet another story about thick shepherds, this rabbi suddenly said, ‘ you know something, this foolish shepherd is just what God’s like’. God knows each one of us by name, and he’s not content to let anyone of us get lost, he’ll come looking for us, and risk everything to find us, and bring us safely home. And this rabbi finished this story with some words I’ll never forget:
‘I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who don’t need to repent.’
Well that fair blew me away, that did, to think that God is a shepherd like me. And maybe just maybe the folks in the village will think twice before slagging off us shepherds again. And so when I heard that this rabbi was in our village again, I went to listen again, and do you know he were telling another of his stories about sheep. Well, I know all about sheep, so I decided to stop and listen. And this story it were about these hired hands, whom the farmer picks up hanging around in the village, pays them minimum wage like, and then wonders why they clear off at first sign of a wolf or any trouble...cause they weren’t real shepherds...and didn’t care about the sheep. And then he said this, ‘I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.’ Well, I’m not sure I would like, give my life for a sheep...got me thinking that did. And then this morning I came into the city, to bring some of my lambs to sell for sacrifice for Passover – you get a good price for lambs at Passover and the city is rammed - and on the way into the city gate I saw that rabbi, and the Romans had got him, and he was strung up on a cross dying in pain. And those words came back to me, ‘I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep'. I wonder if that’s what he were doing today, laying down his life for me...?
Amen. (from Archdeacon Mark).