When reading comments of political or religious discussions, I commonly see people referred to as “sheep” or “sheeple”. Sheeple don’t think for themselves. They blindly follow others, and they never discern the truth on their own. Well, at least that is what the label implies. If you cling too tightly to the beliefs of a party, or a faith or an ideal, and if you publicly declare it, you will likely find yourself labeled a sheep by someone. It is supposed to make you feel foolish for belonging to a group of like-minded individuals.
It is the nature of sheep to follow. It makes them easy to herd. George Orwell used them in Animal Farm to symbolize weak-minded followers who continually bleat mantras given them by the pigs. Yes, they have a reputation for being stupid. But, if we use Orwell’s novel to learn about sheep, we might assume that sheep will follow anyone and do anything they are told. Not so commonly known is their suspicious nature. Real sheep aren’t willing to follow just anyone. They follow trusted voices. Jesus knew the nature of sheep.
John 10:5, 14
5 And a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers.
14 I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine.
My grandfather had sheep. As a child I would walk around his corrals and outbuildings, exploring the sights and sounds. The sheep would watch me with great curiosity from the other side of their fence, but they never let me get close enough to touch them. If I drew closer, they would back away, keeping a constant buffer of space between us. My grandfather was different. We was trusted. He could walk up to them and feed them from his hand. Real sheep may not be the brightest of the animals on the farm, but they don’t trust strangers. They trust the good shepherd.
There is a stigma attached to the label of “sheep”. And, if we look at sheep the way George Orwell did, there might be a reason for feeling shame. On the other hand, if we see sheep the way Jesus did, we should be glad to wear this label. If we know and trust the Good Shepherd, and if we are known of Him, where is the stigma in that?