At my previous international WYD in Sydney, I visited a sheep-shearing station in the countryside. It was an odd day-trip, but Australia is known for these vast properties of land where they would raise sheep for their wool and meat. We spent the afternoon learning how to crack a whip, throw a boomerang and then, before a traditional Australian meal at suppertime, we went to a sheep-shearing demonstration.
I have always been fascinated by the parable of the lost sheep – the story of the shepherd who goes out to find a stray lamb in order to lead it back to the rest of the flock. I know that I often feel like the sheep that takes detours. I am sure we all experience that feeling of separation; it’s a feeling of anxiety and restlessness. Every time I hear the story, I wonder how long the stray sheep is away from the clan. Is it an hour? A day? Or simply a few minutes?
While on the farm, I saw a sheep get away from the clan and it was amusing to say the least. Since the rest of the flock was in the stables for the day, the farmer let the sheepdog chase it back towards the others. It did not want to come home. The two of them circled the property for half an hour before the sheep finally made its way back into the stable.
At the sheep-shearing demonstration, I was in awe of how submissive this animal can be. The shearer was squishing its legs together, turning its head to one side against the ground, sticking its bottom up in the air – all in order to sheer its wool. Not once did the sheep resist, nor did it whelp in pain. The little lamb was at the full mercy of the shearer and trusted that he would not hurt it. When he was finished, the lamb was free to join the others – and I’m sure it was a couple of degrees cooler, a few pounds lighter and more content than before.
Before we left the farm, I was able to hold a lamb in my arms. I was so excited! I felt like I had made a connection with God on that day. Just as the parable of the lost sheep tells us that we will be saved by God whenever we stray from our flock, there is this important image of the lamb that we have to keep in mind. The lamb is malleable, trusting, and fully submissive; that is why it is able to be led back to the flock. If we replaced the sheep in the parable with any other animal, it would not hold the same meaning.
I would not have been led to my first World Youth Day experience if I didn’t share characteristics with the lamb. Each time I’ve gone on a pilgrimage to WYD, I’ve had to place my own fears aside, trust the shearer (God), and be led home with a lighter burden and a happier heart.