Monday, October 26, 2009

As a sheep to the slaughter

"He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; and like a lamb dumb before his shearer, so opened he not his mouth."


A fine Fall day in late October. The westering sun filters through the maples and walnuts, creating a gold-green glow and casting long shadows out into the field. Spiders' webs gleam between blades of grass in the sun where, haphazard it would seem, industrious arachnids have made a carpet of gossamer to doom late fall hatches of whatever insects enjoy this crisp air.

I rest, waiting. We have gathered, and I have separated the flock, those that shall stay, and those that are destined to give themselves to us, for us. Soon now it will be time to spend what we have gathered.

It's quiet. They watch me, curious. I watch them, remembering little things. An ear scratched here, a shot given there. Breaking ice on the water last Winter during the snow so they could drink. Apples we have shared, and blackberries hand-picked for sheep to nibble on. The cold quiet of the barn during Christmas, when you could imagine a babe and a mother with shepherds visiting and sheep nearby.

The others are also quiet - who knows what goes on in their heads. They stand on the other side of the gates, waiting patiently.

Soon the men come, the last stop of the day. We talk briefly about how it is to be done, and where. There is no ceremony nowadays. No incantations or blessings. But that has been said before - call me a fool, but I prayed for them, and me.

We set about it - slowly drawing the pen gates in - hemming them in. The more experienced one decides the bullet is best not used and not needed in this case - draws his killing knife, and one is down, life leaving him. The less experienced one groans and cries out to God (does he mean it? He should, maybe), and says "only my second day." I reply with grim compassion that is nevertheless hard: "there's nothing easy about this sort of thing."

Our first one, in these few seconds while we say this, all the while moving earnestly to finish the work, gives a last sigh - he is already gone, his life's blood spilt on the ground. His blood given now that we may eat and live another day.

Now the next one is under the knife, and it is done, his blood staining the barn wall and the ground before me. He is gone, mercifully, faster than the first. As the men take the first up to lay him by the truck, I tell the second "God rest you."

They come back and we move the second up to the road. Riders in cars, passing by on their way down the hill, gawk at the spectacle. Maybe they are horrified. Maybe they'll stop for steaks in the high class restaurant down the hill. Maybe both, or neither. I think, perhaps, I am very, very far from them. But I have seen more than the slaughter of sheep.

The men load them in and take them to where the butcher will do her trade.

Meanwhile I look at where they have been - the bloodstained ground where sacrifice is made real. I open up the pen and lead the others out, taking them to the freshest pasture we have, to give them respite from all this. Good green grass, in our little quiet grove of cedars, redwoods, and firs. Then I walk to the base of a walnut tree, pull up a ring from the tree my neighbor and I cut up, crack a beer, and sit watching the shadows, the webs, and the westering sun, and sit quiet in their honor, if sheep may be honored. Theirs was an honorable life.

Away across the field I heart the bleating of the two new kid goats that we helped the neighbor see into this world.

I sigh and get up - supper is being set on and I have other denizens of this farm needing care and feeding before darkness falls.

Away in a tall fir a hawk screams, then takes to wing, circles twice, and flies away down the hill.

God rest you, friends.

Thursday, October 08, 2009


Some while ago I bought my wife a CD-Boxed-Audio-Set of The New Testament which is available as The Word of Promise: New Testament Audio Bible (Thomas Nelson, publ.), with the idea as she is not terribly inclined to pick up the New Testament, she might be more inclined to hear it while riding in the car or otherwise.

This audio version features a "star-studded" cast delivering the gospels, all in the NKJV, and has some scoring and some sound effects - the sort of Foley effects one would hear on a radio show and other background. Sometimes the score is a bit much (the whole smashing cymbals and glorious angelic choir singing in crescendo at points), but overall the whole thing works well in delivering the Gospel as I think it was meant to be heard - as an oral tradition.

Jim Caviezel does the voice of Jesus and does a creditable job at it. The work is unabridged, so uncomfortable and difficult passages are not ignored or skipped - and the hearer must hear them and wrestle with them.

Today as I drove to work I listened to the Gospel of Mark this way, up until the reception of the little children. It is refreshing to hear the Gospel as a continuous narrative - and many things strike you as you hear it this way.

For example, in Mark 3:5, Jesus looks around at the scribes with wrath because he is grieved for the hardness of their hearts when they will not answer him whether it is lawful to heal on the Sabbath, and then he heals a man.

καὶ περιβλεψάμενος αὐτοὺς μετ᾽ ὀργῆς συλλυπούμενος ἐπὶ τῇ πωρώσει τῆς καρδίας αὐτῶν

And one sees that many, many times, even the disciples hearts are hard and thereby they cannot understand the Gospel even though they hear the parables and are later told the parables' meaning, and when they see a mighty work, but do not understand it:

Now when evening came, the boat was in the middle of the sea; and He [was] alone on the land. Then He saw them straining at rowing, for the wind was against them. Now about the fourth watch of the night He came to them, walking on the sea, and would have passed them by. And when they saw Him walking on the sea, they supposed it was a ghost, and cried out; for they all saw Him and were troubled. But immediately He talked with them and said to them, "Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid."

Then He went up into the boat to them, and the wind ceased. And they were greatly amazed in themselves beyond measure, and marveled.

For they had not understood about the loaves, because their heart was hardened.

Mark 6:47-52

and this:

Then the Pharisees came out and began to dispute with Him, seeking from Him a sign from heaven, testing Him. But He sighed deeply in His spirit, and said, "Why does this generation seek a sign? Assuredly, I say to you, no sign shall be given to this generation." And He left them, and getting into the boat again, departed to the other side.

Now the disciples had forgotten to take bread, and they did not have more than one loaf with them in the boat.

Then He charged them, saying, "Take heed, beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod."

And they reasoned among themselves, saying, ["It is] because we have no bread."

But Jesus, being aware of [it], said to them, "Why do you reason because you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive nor understand? Is your heart still hardened? Having eyes, do you not see? And having ears, do you not hear? And do you not remember?

When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of fragments did you take up?" They said to Him, "Twelve."

"Also, when I broke the seven for the four thousand, how many large baskets full of fragments did you take up?" And they said, "Seven."

So He said to them, "How [is it] you do not understand?"

Mark 8:11-21

Do you find that wonderful and troubling? I do. The disciples marvel about him walking on the waters, because their hearts were hardened and they didn't understand about the loaves. Likewise, their hearts seem to remain hardened and they don't understand about the loaves and they seem not to have ears to hear and eyes to see with, despite that he tells them earlier that they are "insiders" and to them are all things revealed and he tells them the meaning of the parables.

I tremble and wonder if I have any understanding as I listen to these passages (rather than read them). Does he mean - "do you not understand that I am the One, the I am, who brings bread from heaven to His people?" Does he mean something else?

I am sure someone will bring me the commentary of the Fathers about this - but sometimes it is good to just sit, bewildered, like the disciples, hearing the Master speak and striving to understand Him.

I wonder about my own hardness of heart - give me ears to hear, Lord. I realize that most of the time I am like a hearer who has poor stony soil by the side of the road, that is also choked with thorns - all of these things I have been beset by . . . .

I am refreshed by hearing the Gospel this way, even if sometimes the music is corny or the readers "unworthy." I too, am unworthy to read such great things. May you, dear reader, also have opportunity to just sit and have a good reader, or readers, read the Gospel to you so that He may be heard, and you may be refreshed.

May God protect you.