Treating Old Friends Badly

by Victor Knowles

Treating Old Friends Badly

One of Aesop's stories which has been a source of delight for children for centuries, can also be a source of enlightenment for discerning adults. It is the story of "The Goatherd and the Wild Goats" (The Aesop for Children © 1919, 1947 by Checkerboard Press, 1993 Barnes & Noble Books). The story reads as follows:

One cold stormy day a goatherd drove his goats for shelter into a cave, where a number of wild goats had also found their way. The shepherd wanted to make the wild goats part of his flock; so he fed them well. But to his own flock, he gave only just enough food to keep them alive. When the weather cleared, and the shepherd led the goats out to feed, the wild goats scampered off to the hills.

"Is that the thanks I get for feeding you and treating you so well?" complained the shepherd.

"Do not expect us to join your flock," replied one of the wild goats. "We know how you would treat us later on, if some strangers should come as we did."

It is unwise to treat old friends badly for the sake of new ones.

Now I wonder if this same sort of thing isn't happening in the modern church.

To tweak the story slightly; is it possible that some shepherds, in their eagerness and desire to make wild goats a part of their flock, are feeding the goats well while barely feeding the sheep?

Are the goats wiser than the shepherds? Do they know that they are being played to while the sheep, who were always fed well in the past, are being neglected and starved? Do they suspect that someday they themselves, if they join up with this crowd, will be treated in similar fashion?

And when the weather clears-and the goats are feeling their oats and cavort instead of convert, as goats are wont to do-will the shepherds learn the lesson that it is unwise to treat old friends badly for the sake of new ones?

And what are the feelings (if, indeed, they have been considered at all) of the loyal and faithful sheep, who suffered and nearly starved while the shepherd sought to appease the voracious appetites of the wild goats? Will they be fed well again in the future? They don't really know. The silence of the lambs is painful. Many of them suffer from spiritual malnutrition. The wish that sustained and nurtured them for years has been severely cut back or eliminated altogether.

"It's just an old fable!" some may scoff. True. I don't want to butt heads with anyone but every now and then it's good to lay a fable on the table and mull over its meaning. After all, a fable is a story which illustrates some useful truth-especially one in which animals talk and act like people! And I think we've got a live one here on the table.

The goats do the talking in this parable. Boy, do they talk! Nobody is pulling the wool over their eyes. They are wise to what's going on. The silence of the lambs, however, speaks volumes.

The shepherd, who seems stunned by the ingratitude of the goats, complains bitterly. "Is that the thanks I get for feeding you and treating you so well?" No, silly shepherd. That's just what you get for gearing up to greedy goats while neglecting the sheep who were entrusted into your care! And if you were feeding goats just to hear an occasional goat burp his thanks, your motive for ministry is marred. "What meaneth the bleating of the sheep?" What, indeed?

It's a fact of life. Goats are goats. A good shepherd divides his sheep from the goats (Matt. 25:32). At least that's the precursor of Judgment Day according to Jesus. Our Lord wanted others to enter His fold-the one fold. Other sheep, that is (John 10:16). Goats don't turn into sheep. Only well-cared for sheep beget other sheep. Friends, you can sing until the cows come home but you cannot turn a goat into a sheep. We should feel sheepish for even trying.

"Should not the shepherds feed the flocks?" (Ezekiel 34:2).

Hmmm.