The apostles had returned from their ministry practicum in high spirits and shared their experiences to Jesus and the rest of the group. It was time to take a break. They got into a boat and headed across the lake to find some deserted place away from the crowds for a few days of rest. It was not to be, however. Folks from Capernaum and other lakeside towns nearby could identify the sails of Peter’s boat out on the lake and figured out about where Jesus and his apostles were heading. By the time they landed, a crowd was already forming. Eventually it would number in the thousands. Rather than leave to find some other site, Jesus took pity on the crowd for they were “like sheep without a shepherd.”
Unlike wild sheep that are adapted to living on their own, domesticated sheep are completely dependent on their shepherd. Sheep are rather defenseless animals. Naturally hotwired to flock together, if one sheep heads off for whatever reason, the rest will follow blindly. Without a shepherd, the sheep go astray and become easy prey for predators. Should a predator come, they get easily spooked and take off running. With little innate sense of direction and without a shepherd to guide them, finding sufficient pasture and water becomes near impossible. Their wool overgrows, becoming matted, heavy, dirty and infected with parasites. Their hoofs don’t get trimmed, making movement more painful and difficult. How, then, do you think the people who came to Jesus . . . or people today, for that matter . . . were like sheep without a shepherd?