Forced to leave Australia by visa requirements, we spent our two-week Easter holiday on the north island of New Zealand, first in a mountainous region, then on to the southernmost coast of the island. I loved both regions of New Zealand... equal in splendor and majesty, but quite different one from the other.
Wharekauhau, the very isolated, somehow mysterious coast, captivated my spirit. The power of the waves crashing on the black sand of the desolate beach littered with sun-bleached drift wood. The heavy cloud of mist cloaking the majesty of the mountains beyond the ocean. The jagged peaks of the south island rising up through the hazy pastels of the setting sun. Thousands of brown fur seals flipping about in the cold ocean, lounging in the sun on the craggy seashore. The black silhouette of rocky mountains against the gray sky at dusk. The gentle, crisp stream as it gathers speed in its eager journey over gray and white stones to be gathered into the ocean. That small feeling standing at the base of a sheer cliff of rock and dirt. The quietness. The wind. The stars in the black night sky. The glory of creation on display.
Then there were the sheep. In a country of four million people, there are 40 million sheep... We stayed on a working sheep farm which manages about 10,000 sheep, used both for meat and for wool. For the first time in my life, I experienced sheep and shepherds first hand. What are the implications of Christians being likened to sheep?
Sheep depend on each other for survival. Because one sheep has no means of defense in and of itself, it requires the herd for safety. One sheep needs all the rest. Strength in numbers. Hmmm. Doesn't sound much like me in my comfortable, closed-in, self-sufficient life.
Unless mommy sheep is cold, she will not protect her lamb from the winter cold. Despite the whipping wind and freezing temperatures, the shepherd shears the ewes just before they give birth. Why? If the mother does not experience the sting of winter, she will not find protection from it. As her newborn lamb will not leave her side, it will freeze to death. Hmmm. A shepherd who designs discomfort for the good of his sheep? Bet that ewe thinks her shepherd is unfair, even cruel.
What else about sheep? Sheep die without a shepherd. Die. Sheep are sheared roughly twice a year. Unlike most animals who shed their winter coat in spring, sheep never shed their wool, nor does it ever stop growing. So without their bi-annual shearing, their wool, especially when wet, becomes so heavy that the sheep cannot stand up under its weight. He lays down to sleep, but cannot stand to move to food, starving to death. Sheep cannot live without a shepherd, cannot live in the wild.
The good thing is that it is not up to the sheep to find his way back to the herd. That's the shepherd's job. Our kids watched the shepherd, with the help of his dogs, try to catch a wandering sheep. Not easy. Sheep are quick and tricky, scared of people, often escaping from the corner in which he's been trapped. But when it is finally caught, he ties its legs together and puts it over his shoulders, the carrying a much easier task than the capturing.
And that's where I rest. I know I die without a Shepherd. I cannot find my way back to Him. But he will chase me. Corner me. Find me. And carry me home.