Lessons from an Irish Shepherd

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ewes-and-lambsIreland is full of sheep. As we drove through the rural areas we saw sheep everywhere. One of the first things you notice about the sheep is that they are all marked with a splash of color: red, pink, green, blue. Of course, we wanted to know why, and the answer was that the various owners mark their sheep with an identifying color so their neighbors know whose sheep belongs to who.

Since the walls separating fields are low, the sheep often find their way into other fields and mingle. The bright colors make it easy to separate them.

Sadly, Irish wool is no longer worth much on the market, so that the cost of sheering the sheep can outweigh the value of the wool. As a result some shepherds are looking for creative ways to supplement their income. One of these ways is showing groups like us how they care for the sheep.

Tom Sheering a Sheep. jpgOn day 7 of our tour, we visited a working sheep farm in Connemara where Tom, the shepherd, sent his well-trained sheepdog to gather the sheep in at his command. Once he had a group of his sheep close at hand, he selected one to demonstrate his technique of shearing using old-fashioned mechanical clippers. Shearing the sheep removed the red colored mark on the surface of the wool.

Tom Shepherd Sheep 1 copyI asked Tom, “Will there be a problem after shearing since the sheep has lost its colored mark.” And Tom said, “Oh, no. The mark is for other people. I don’t need the mark to identify my sheep.” And then he held the sheep’s face up close and looking at it, said, “I know my sheep. I’d know that face anywhere.”

His words struck me with such force, it took my breath away. Such familiar words spoken by the Great Shepherd fell matter-of-factly from Tom’s mouth.

“I am the Good Shepherd and know my own sheep, and they know me.” John 10:14 And again, “My sheep recognize my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” John 10:27

Later in the van, our guide said he thought Tom was exaggerating. But I recognized the voice of truth in Tom’s words. Of course, Tom is not a perfect shepherd like Jesus so yes he may forget or be mistaken. But our Good Shepherd knows us intimately and will never forget his own. He sets his seal upon us not so he will know whose are his, but so that our neighbors know.

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