We’re probably all familiar with some type of image of a shepherd carrying a sheep around his shoulders. The truth is that it is not an uncommon way for a Bedouin shepherd to carry one of his flock.
But the image has a deeper meaning . . .
I was in Bethlehem at the traditional site where the angels would have appeared to the shepherd announcing the birth of the Messiah. Our local guide shared with us some very meaningful knowledge about the normal practices of the shepherds. In particular about why a shepherd would carry a sheep on his shoulders.
Lambs are prone to wander–to wander away from the flock–to wander away from the safe care of their shepherd. Because the shepherd cares deeply for his flock, when he finds a wandering lamb he intentionally breaks one of its legs. Then, for the next six months, the shepherd carries the lamb on his shoulders while the break heals. During this time of healing a deep bond is formed between the shepherd and his wandering lamb. The lamb becomes intimately aware of the voice of the shepherd. By the end of six weeks the lamb is very unlikely to wander into danger ever again.
Having traversed the rugged hillsides in the wilderness of Israel I gained a greater respect for the shepherds and their care for their sheep. I had to wonder if a shepherd might think, “Not again. Now I have to carry this animal on my shoulders for six weeks!”
If a shepherd didn’t highly value a lamb I doubt if he would go through the personal agony of breaking its leg and then lugging it around for a month and a half.
I wonder how many times Jesus, as my Shepherd, has had to do the same with me? I am prone to wander.