BOS 11 25 2020 doublesize
When I started farming, we used square bales. Twice a day, we would spread flakes through the mangers trying to ensure that there was room for every ewe to access the feed. If there were lambs, a couple flakes of second cut were put into the creep area. The lambs could not get near the mangers.

As soon as the hay was in place, every ewe got her head in to grab what she could. The strong ewes pushed the ones beside them out of the way with their flanks so they could get more. It was even worse when we put down grain because their heads were free to butt others out of their way.

At the end of winter when we sheared them, we would find one or two really skinny animals. These were the ones who had been pushed away from the manger, who only got scraps. Some days they might be lucky and grab a spot where a large flake had been dropped. But the strong sheep would notice and get them out of the way so they got even stronger, fatter.

We got a round baler to make baling simpler and faster, but round bales dealt with this problem of the bully sheep. Hay was available, all day, all night. The stronger would get first crack at a new bale, but the weaker ones could eat at yesterday's bale where there was still good hay. The end of winter never left us with those super skinny ewes to deal with. This was a real benefit that we had not predicted.

This experience helped me to understand a rather strange passage in Ezekiel (34: 11-22). On God's behalf, Ezekiel declares that God will judge between the sheep, binding up the weak and injured, destroying the fat and the strong.

The problem Ezekiel saw was that strong people were acting like the sheep in our barn. The strong were taking the resources for themselves, leaving the weak hungry.

The first lesson for those who are well off is, "Don't bully." But the critique of the strong is sharp. I wonder what Ezekiel would have imagined as a way of equalizing access to resources, food? Round bales did it in our barn, but perhaps a good question would be, "how can the strong use their strength well?"

There is another sheep parable from six hundred years after Ezekiel, this one told by Jesus (Matt 25: 31 - 46). When the king comes to judge the people, the king will separate them as the shepherd separates the sheep and the goats. With one group the king will say "Welcome into the kingdom. When I was hungry you fed me; when I was thirsty you gave me drink; when I was naked you clothed me; when I was sick or in prison you visited me." This group look at the king saying, "When did we ever help you like that?" And the king will say, "Each time you did this to the least of mine, you did it to me. Likewise, the king will say to the other group, "You are thrown out of the kingdom. When I was hungry you did not feed me; when I was thirsty you gave me no drink; when I was naked you did not clothe me; when I was sick or in prison you did not visit me." "When did we ever not help you?" this group will ask. "Every time you did not do this to one of the least, you did not do it to me."

There are several important aspects to this parable, but in the context of Ezekiel, let me highlight two. First, the person who is strong and able, who has resources, is supposed to share those resources with those in need. Not like the strong sheep who took more. But second, when the king identifies with the ones in need, the sense of power is shifted. The strong are not the stand tall, proud ones. The king is among the poor. That is where honour and respect reside.

The first power shift is predictable: use your strength to help others. The second is transformative: each time you help another treat them the way you would the king. The act of giving becomes an act of respect.

Cathy Hird lives on the traditional territory of the Saugeen Ojibway