In the time of Jesus and in earlier Bible times, shepherds tended flocks of sheep that provided both food and clothing for their families. Shepherds were some of the first people to hear about the birth of the Baby Jesus. Shepherds loved their sheep and took good care of them. They spent day and night with their sheep to protect them from wild animals and dangerous places that might harm them. And they led their flocks to good food and clear water.
If the flock were not too large, shepherds often gave each a name. The shepherd of Bible times would lead his sheep rather than drive them as the western shepherds do. Every evening he counted his flock as he put each sheep into the fold (enclosure to protect animals). Sometimes the fold was called a corral.
The older boys in a family would help the father plow, sow, and harvest the grain. But when the youngest boy was old enough, he was chosen to become a shepherd who cared for the family’s sheep.
Shepherd boys lived very simple lives and wore simple clothing. They wore a tunic like a long shirt made of cotton, with a leather girdle or belt wrapped around the waist. An outer garment consisted of a warm aba, often made of camel hair. It shed rain and at night could be used as a blanket.
The shepherd carried a scrip, a bag made of dried skin or homespun material. When he left home to tend his sheep, his scrip was filled with bread, cheese, dried fruit, and perhaps some olives. And for protection from wild animals, a shepherd also carried a rod, a stout wooden club similar to a policeman’s truncheon. It was often made of oak and had a knob on the end of it. Sometimes spikes were driven into the end of the rod for added protection.
A shepherd often used a staff to help him guide his sheep. Sometimes the staff had a crook on the end that enabled the shepherd to hook any sheep that began to wander from the flock. He also used a sling made of two strings of sinew, rope, or leather, with a wider piece of leather in the middle to hold a stone. The sling was swung around the head, and the stone was released by letting loose of one end of the string. It was used to protect the sheep from wild animals or to alert the flock to change its direction of travel. Occasionally the shepherd used the sling to drop a stone close to a sheep that might be lagging behind or to startle a sheep that needed to catch up with the flock.
Jesus was often referred to as the Good Shepherd. His followers were people who believed in Him, and were sometimes called His sheep or His disciples. Before He left them, He made sure that each one of His sheep or followers was loved and cared for. Jesus needed someone to feed His sheep, that is, to teach and care for them and to be their shepherd when He was no longer with them. He asked His disciples who loved Him to do this.
Jesus knows and loves each one of us. He wants us to know that we are precious in His sight. He is concerned about us and wants us to learn about Him and His gospel and to return and live with Him some day.
We must also help to watch over all of Jesus’ sheep. By doing those things that we know are right and by sharing with others the truths of the Church, we are helping to feed His sheep.