Of Sheep Shearing

Of Sheep Shearing February 15, 2024


A park in Picton, in the Marlborough district of the South Island of New Zealand
(Wikimedia Commons public domain image)

We entered Queen Charlotte Sound this morning and sailed until we reached the town of Picton.  Today marked the very first time that I have set foot on New Zealand’s South Island.  I’ve seen the South Island once before, from Wellington across the Cook Strait on a clear day.  But I’ve waited a long time to actually reach it.

We disembarked from our boat and eventually boarded a tour bus with guide/driver who took us down Highway 1, New Zealand’s main north-south road, more or less along the eastern coast of the South Island.  (We also passed through some beautiful inland areas, as well as the town of Blenheim.)  Our destination was a sheep ranch near the town of Kekerengu.  Along the way, we had a good lunch at a place called The Store, but we also heard about — and saw a few of the results of — the massive magnitude 7.8 Kaikōura earthquake that occurred slightly after midnight on 14 November 2016.  (Kaikōura is just a bit further down the coast from Kekerengu.)  So many ruptures occurred on so many faults (twenty-five of them, by most reckonings) that the Kaikōura event, which lasted about two minutes, has been described as the “most complex earthquake ever studied.”

When we reached the sheep ranch, we were given a demonstration of the remarkable ability of two sheep dogs to control a group of about twenty Merino sheep.  Pretty impressive.  We were also able to watch a sheep being sheared, which was done with striking speed.  (I’ll return to sheep shearing in just a moment.)  Afterward, we visited the beautiful Winterhome Garden, which is owned by the same family that owns the adjacent sheep farm, as well, as apparently, The Store.  (The current head of the Macfarlane family, who met us at both the farm and the garden, was involved for roughly twenty years with the very successful Team New Zealand in America’s Cup sailing competitions.  I think he was Winston Macfarlane — whose given name seems to continue the recurring Churchill echoes here in the Marlborough region of the South Island [e.g., the town of Blenheim, named after Blenheim Palace, the seat of the Duke of Marlborough and the birthplace of Sir Winston, who was a descendant of the first Duke of Marlborough, John Churchill].  He looked every bit the yachtsman rather than a sheep farmer.)

On our way back to our ship, we stopped at another beautiful place, in Blenheim.  It’s called Woodend Gardens.

Another view in Picton
(Wikimedia Commons public domain photo)

But back to the shearing of a sheep:

The official, formal announcement of the martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum Smith was written by Elder John Taylor, a British member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles who was with them in Carthage Jail and was grievously wounded when the mob attacked.  Elder Taylor would, of course, live on to succeed Brigham Young as the (third) president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, though he carried some of the mob’s lead in his body for the rest of his life. The announcement that he wrote was included at the end of the 1844 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants, which was nearly ready for publication when Joseph and Hyrum Smith were murdered, and is now considered part of the Latter-day Saint scriptural canon.  It includes this passage:

When Joseph went to Carthage to deliver himself up to the pretended requirements of the law, two or three days previous to his assassination, he said: “I am going like a lamb to the slaughter; but I am calm as a summer’s morning; I have a conscience void of offense towards God, and towards all men. I shall die innocent, and it shall yet be said of me—he was murdered in cold blood.”  (Doctrine and Covenants 135:4)

The reference to a lamb going to slaughter is, of course, an allusion to the “suffering servant” verses in Isaiah 53, which have generally been viewed by nearly two thousand years of Christian biblical interpreters as a messianic prophecy pertaining to the life and atoning sacrifice of Jesus:

He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.

But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.

All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth.  (Isaiah 53:3-7)

Both Isaiah and Jesus lived in a world, in a place, where sheep were common and pastoral imagery came readily to mind.  (Think, even, of that word pastoral itself, and of pastors, and “good shepherds,” and the like.)

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.  He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.  (Psalm 23:1-2)

I was powerfully reminded of Isaiah 53, and particularly of Isaiah 53:7, in watching the sheep being sheared today.  Now, I doubt that a sheep’s facial features have much ability to indicate emotion.  But I was struck by the silence, the calm, and the resignation of that sheep today.  (The shearer and his boss both assured us that sheep feel no pain at the hands of a competent and experienced worker, and it certainly looked that way to me.)  In any case, the words of Isaiah came immediately to my mind as we watched:

As a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth.

I think that I understand those words a little bit better today than I did yesterday.

Posted from the Cook Strait



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