Originally published on my old blog hosted on Pleonast.com on October 14, 2012.
He sat at the crest of the hill, sandwich in hand and staff and dog by his side. Chewing slowly, he gazed down at his precious flock, taking pleasure in their contentment as they safely grazed. They did not worry because he was there. They could see him. He had proved time and again that he would protect them. The ewes trusted him with their lambs, who frolicked easily at his feet, chewing on his trousers and bootstrings as they tried to learn exactly What or Who this strange creature without wool Was.
There were some in his care that would not trust him that easily. “Oh, lambs,” they would scoff. “We know better. Why chew to learn? Listen to our wise words, and we will tell you. This strange creature does not truly want you as he says he does. It is all a trick. You may hold him in your sight now. But you will not always see him. He will leave. He will go over the hill. And what then?”
They were cynical. Stubborn. Tough. He worked that they might learn to trust him. Some did. Some did not. It was hard work into which he poured his whole being. Yet, some would not let him near their lambs, even if they needed extra nourishment, and so he lost lambs, which always took a toll on his soul. Yet, he still tried. Year after year, he tried.
And when a ewe trusted him….oh, what joy! He and his charge would walk side-by-side through the pasture. He would lay the crook of his staff across her back, a connection. And the dog would trot alongside, happy to accompany them and ready to warn of any danger. Man, sheep, and dog created a poignant picture of companionship and contentment, one with the Creation.
To the sheep who followed him, the man’s voice was a comfort, and they knew he was Safe because they Heard his voice, even if they did not See him. And the man felt great joy when they followed him because of his voice.
The sheep could not live without him. Yet he would die to protect them. A strange paradox, as how could a shepherd die to enable sheep to live when they could not truly live without him?
The man finished his sandwich and went down to the creek for water. A ewe followed him, and as he drank, she nudged him, hoping for a hand on her head. After he had refreshed himself, he straightened, smiled down at the ewe, and put his hand on her head.
They stood that way for a while, silent and still, the dog serving as sentinel. Then, the ewe decided to join her flock, so she left.
The shepherd followed.
The Sheep could not Live without Him.