Monday, April 26, 2010

A Shepherd's Life

Have we lost something in our society by our removal from the agricultural life? Some of us do live on or near farms, and see the animals nearby, and know what it means when God's Word says that "all we like sheep have gone astray" (Isa. 53.6) or that the Lord is our shepherd (Ps. 23; John 10; 1 Pet. 5.4; Heb. 13.20) and we are his sheep (Ps. 100.3). But not everyone has seen sheep scattered without a shepherd (Matt. 9.36).

Do we understand what it means to "winnow" barley on the threshingfloor (Ruth 3) with a winnowing fork or fan (Matt. 3.12), or to separate the "wheat from the tares" (Matt. 13), or to watch the chaff blow away (Ps. 1.4); or what it means to sow seed on rocky ground (Matt. 13); or to muzzle the oxen while it treads out the grain (Deut. 25.4; 1 Tim. 5.18), or to tread the winepress (Isa. 63.3; Rev. 19.15); or to what it is to "bind" (Gen. 37.7; Ps. 129.7) or "glean" sheaves (Ruth 2) or "glean" a vineyard (Lev. 19)?

Martin Luther's last written words contain these thoughts:

1. No one can understand Vergil's Bucolics unless he has been a shepherd for five years. No one can understand Vergil's Georgics, unless he has been a farmer for five years.

2. No one can understand Cicero's Letters (or so I teach), unless he has busied himself in the affairs of some prominent state for twenty years.

3. Know that no one can have indulged in the Holy Writers sufficiently, unless he has governed churches for a hundred years with the prophets, such as Elijah and Elisha, John the Baptist, Christ and the apostles.

Do not assail this divine Aeneid; nay, rather prostrate revere the ground that it treads.

We are beggars: this is true.

So again, I ask, and invite the reader to share his or her thoughts, whether your experience is urban or rural or somewhere in-between, have we lost something by our removal as a society from agricultural life? Are the words of Scripture more distant to us; are we impoverished beggars? I don't wish to over-romanticize the pastoral life. But what we do lose if we who are God's sheep have never had occasion to seek a little lost lamb (Matt. 18)?

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