Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Three Goats

Just after Samuel has privately anointed Saul as king (for the first time; there are a lot of anointings/confirmations of Saul as king), he tells the newly-anointed what will happen on his way home from this place. And this is one of those really cool places where if you are not reading with a sanctified imagination and actually putting yourself into the action of the story, you miss an opportunity for a good laugh. Here's what Samuel says:

Keep going until you come to the oak tree at Tabor. There you will find three men on their way to worship God at Bethel: One will be carrying three young goats, one will be carrying three loaves of bread, and one will be carrying a full wineskin. They will greet you.... (1 Samuel 10:3-4a)

Most of the time, we read right past that and say, yes, of course - the king will meet three faithful young men on their way to worship. But take a look again at the three men. One will be carrying a wineskin. One will be carrying three loaves of bread. One will be carrying three goats.

Now, picture it. I've been trying since I busted up laughing at this passage the other day, and I think I've got it figured out - one goat under each arm and another tied up in a papoose somehow. That's the only way I can figure it. (Remember, too, that goats for sacrifices were to be one-year-olds most often. I don't know how fast goats grow, but perhaps at one year old, they are not too ginormous.)

Maybe you're thinking, yeah, okay, but that's not what it means. It means he was in charge of the three goats or that he was leading them or wrangling them or straggling them along behind him on some rope leash he'd tied together. Well, you'd be wrong. Because if you go back to the original Hebrew on this one, the word for "carry" is the same for all three objects - wineskin, bread, goats. And there are a lot of words in the Hebrew for the ways that you can carry/bear/bring something, so when the Hebrew says that the goats were being carried in the same way that the loaves were being carried and that the wineskin was being carried, well...the goats were being carried. 

Which raises the question: how do you decide, upon embarking on a trip to worship, who among you has to be the goat carrier? 

It's absurd. And hilarious. But I say all that to say this:

We often think about what it is that we're bringing to worship. We sometimes look at the person next to us in the pew or across the aisle and wonder what they think they're doing, the hot mess that they are. We see them struggling, grappling, grasping, hair all in tangled knots and clothes wrinkled and nearly out of breath from what seems to have been the sheer effort of getting here once more (I'm speaking figuratively, here). We see them coming, bearing their mess of a life that sometimes never seems to get better, and something inside of us scoffs a little bit. We look in our own hands at our own little neat package of a life and wonder why they can't bring something more like that.

But the truth is that we still have goat bearers among us. Some of us, we're really good at bringing our little loaves of bread. We're fairly comfortable toting a simple wineskin. But we've forgotten that some persons's holy task is to come bearing goats. Lively, active, year-old goats that are bucking and kicking and making noise and wriggling about. And we have the gall to just look at them with a huff, with judging eyes, with haughtiness and say, Can't you keep those kids under control? They're going to make my bread fall. They're going to break my wineskin.

But it's all offering. It's all an aroma pleasing to the Lord. There are so many prescriptions about coming to worship and what to bring and what to offer and why. We in the modern church believe - rightly so - that what we bring is our whole lives. What we bring is everything we've got. And we absolutely should. 

Let us never forget, though, that that looks different for everyone. For some, it's a few loaves of bread, which might fit nicely in a single knapsack. For others, it's a runny, fluid, sloshing measure of wine, which goes nicely into a single wineskin. 

For many, however, it's three crazy goats, which must be borne and brought in the same way, carried to worship, to the altar itself. 

One tucked under each arm and the third slung over our shoulders in some kind of papoose, I think.

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