By Linda Porter Carlyle
Hannah Maria Estevez couldn’t believe her ears!
“So now we’ll go outside, and Mrs. Benson will show us the sheep she brought along with her to church today,” Pastor Chuck said. He grinned. “I know that we are all used to seeing sheep from a distance. We see them grazing in pastures as we zip by on the road,” he went on. “But I thought it would be fun—since our Sabbath School lesson is about sheep—to have Mrs. Benson come talk to us and let us actually meet a sheep.”
Hannah loved sheep! She collected them. Fluffy, stuffed ones. Little sheep statues. She even had a music box that played, “Mary Had A Little Lamb” while a tiny Mary in a pink dress held her lamb and twirled around and around. Hannah didn’t have a live sheep yet, but she sure planned to someday!
The Sabbath School class trooped behind Pastor Chuck outside and across the parking lot to where Mrs. Benson’s big red and white pickup truck was parked. Two fat, wooly, not quite-white sheep nibbled on the edge of the church lawn.
Mrs. Benson held the ropes that were fastened to the sheep’s halters. She smiled. “Good morning!” she said.
The class stopped and looked at the sheep.
The sheep stopped eating and looked at the class. One of them opened its mouth. “Baaa!” it said.
“The Bible calls us sheep, and it calls God the Good Shepherd,” Mrs. Benson began. “I am going to tell you some interesting things about sheep so you will better understand what the Bible is talking about.
“I guess the first thing about sheep is that they belong to somebody. Sheep cannot take care of themselves. They need their owner to take care of them,” Mrs. Benson said. “We are like that. We belong to God, and we need our owner to take care of us.”
Mrs. Benson went on. “The twenty-third psalm tells us some of the ways God does that. It says, ‘He maketh me to lie down in the green pastures.’ Sheep need to be able to rest peacefully or they won’t grow well. But they are very timid and fearful critters. Did you know that just a jack rabbit bouncing from behind a bush can stampede a whole flock? Sheep don’t have any way at all to protect themselves from predators. And just about anything can be a predator. Bears, cougars, coyotes, even dogs.
“The thing that makes the sheep most quiet and peaceful,” Mrs. Benson explained, “is to see the shepherd in the field with them. Then they are not afraid to lie down. And that’s just like us. We are not afraid of things when we remember that Jesus is always with us.”
Hannah eased a little closer to the two sheep. She couldn’t wait to touch them. She wanted to sink her fingers into that thick wool.
“Sheep have a particular problem,” Mrs. Benson continued. “A sheep can lie down and easily roll over a little too far. Then when it kicks and struggles to get up, it ends up rolling over even farther onto its back. It’s very, very sad to see a sheep lying there with its feet kicking helplessly in the air. And if the weather is hot and sunny, the sheep can actually die in just a few hours unless the shepherd sees what happened and helps it to stand up again.”
Hannah eyes grew wide. How horrible! That would never happen to her sheep! When she had sleep, she would watch them closely.
“I want to explain the part of the twenty-third psalm that says, “Thou annointest my head with oil,” Mrs. Benson went on. “Sheep are terribly bothered by flies in the summer time. The flies buzz around their heads and try to lay their eggs in the sheep’s noses. So the sheep will beat their heads against trees or bushes or rub their heads in the dirt to try and keep the flies away. Or they’ll toss their heads up and down for hours, or maybe they’ll try to run away from flies.”
The kids looked at each other. Disgusting! Fly eggs in your nose!
“So at the first sign of flies,” Mrs. Benson said, “the shepherd smears medicine of oil and other ingredients all over the sheep’s noses and heads to protect them. Then the flies leave the sheep alone, and they can eat quietly again and rest peacefully.
“The oil is like God’s Spirit,” Mrs. Benson explained. “God sends His Spirit to give us peace, and patience, and joy even when Satan is tormenting us or people are ‘bugging’ us.”
The class laughed.
“Well, I guess it’s time to let you touch the sheep if you’d like to,” Mrs. Benson said. “Move slowly. Don’t startle them. Maybe you could take turns, two or three of you at a time,” she suggested.
Hannah didn’t wait. She had waited quite long enough already. She stepped forward quickly, but quietly, and gently poked all ten of her fingers deep into the soft, slightly greasy wool.