I was fascinated by the shepherd and his flock that was allowed onto Hahn Air Base in Germany. When the rugged man and his ruddy son led the flock through the main gate, I could hear the bleats from the sheep and murmurs from both guys. I think they must have been calling the sheep by name, carefully giving instructions to the wooly mass as it spread hungrily through the grass just inside the base.
It was incongruous to witness such an archaic scene where ordinarily one could only see complex military equipment roaring about. But, according to the base commander, letting the sheep in from time to time was cheaper than mowing and the fertilizer was free. Thus, the military leadership saved the taxpayers money while beautifying the base as well as providing a very peaceful pastoral scene for the GIs.
The shepherd and his boy both wielded staffs with crooks on the end. I saw the elder shepherd use his a time or two for something other than a walking stick. Occasionally, he would reach out with the crook and gather some of the younger and dumber lambs in closer to the flock. Sometimes he would encourage the dilatory with the other end of his staff. The lad used his on an unruly puppy that was slowly learning the trade so I was satisfied that the staff could serve as a weapon. After all, David of old was said to have killed wild animals to keep them off his sheep.
The symbol of a Christian bishop is a shepherd’s staff. The word “bishop” means “overseer” and, as such, his job is to reach out and gather people in, encourage them with the other end and perhaps even to do what Christians call spiritual warfare. So, the shepherd’s staff is a great symbol for what the bishop does. Most of us have witnessed processionals either in person or on television with the bishop in the lead carrying an elaborate silvered and bejeweled staff. What the scene says is that this person is a shepherd of the flock, ready to gather, encourage and protect.
Once when I was working on a military project near an open area on the base, I got an up close look at lunchtime for the shepherd and his lad. They spread a large rough cloth at the edge of a hardwood draw and reclined on their sides to eat some strong-smelling cheese and each drank a little beer from a “snap-cap” bottle. The dogs reclined nearby, casting lustful looks towards the cheese and bread, but they never got a bite. Occasionally the ever-alert shepherds would call out something and the designated sheep would react obediently. If there was any rebellion, they would send the dogs on a mission the animals relished. I had learned to say “it is a nice day” in German, so I said it to the shepherds. The younger replied in slightly accented English that they did not speak much German. They were Dutch.
Oh well. Whatever their nationality, I enjoyed watching them ply their ancient trade and learned something about why Christian bishops carry a staff.