I have an uncle who is a farmer. He has had cattle in the past, but now mainly grows grain.
Garth and I were getting a tour of his farm one day, in his old land rover with the roof cut off, and the dogs were running alongside. It really is a thrill to fly over the beautiful land, in the warm dry breeze. All of a sudden, my uncle stops, points, and looks at his wife and son. On the horizon, there was a graceful flowing movement coming over the hill.
We were told that what we saw was the neighbours’ goats. Kids in the country sometimes have flocks or crops instead of a part-time job, and the teenager’s Bovidae income was on its way. The jovial mood of the adventure sobered immediately. Goats, it was explained, move as one. The flock moves fast, and will charge and turn in unison, effectively bulldozing the crops in their way. Dinner was left to burn in the oven as we catapulted towards the animals, the dogs excitedly flying alongside. My uncle, aunt, and cousin knew exactly what to do, wordlessly jumping from the vehicle and moving to position. The dogs responded to the whistles and calls, and together they managed to turn the goats around and herd them back to the paddock. One young dog, Stumpy, was so excited by these little fast erratic animals that she got too close and too bitey and was roundly disciplined.
In this all, the goats were shepherded (or goatherded) carefully, and guided rather than forced back to where they needed to be. When my uncle met the teenage goatherd coming the other way, a quiet conversation was had, out of earshot, and it was clear that a firm but caring correction was made, one that was accepted with humility.
This week, there is a theme of flocks the Old and New Testament readings. Goats and sheep are closely related. They need animals of their own kind, for company and protection. The stronger animals surround and protect the weaker. The animals recognise and become attached to the human that tends to them. It is little wonder that the prophets recognised humanity as a flock, the stronger amongst us responsible for protecting the vulnerable. A flock that is tended by the one that keeps us together and safe, on whom we can depend. A shepherd that is skilled and calm and knows exactly what to do in a crisis. A God that will correct and guide the strong, the ones that herd, and those that are responsible for the flock’s future. Where are we in our flock?
Every blessing this week, as we reflect on the Word together.