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Irons in the fire: The lost and least of them

Paul Marchant for Progressive Cattle Published on 22 November 2019

I was checking heifers one dark, freezing cold night in late February a few years back, when I came upon a hapless tiny newborn calf shivering all alone under some sagebrush, with no mama in sight.

I loaded the poor little creature in the cab of the pickup and, after half an hour of amateur detective work, determined the heifer with the new calf a hundred yards down the draw had given birth to twins. The new mother was in no disposition to accept both babies, and I was in no disposition or position to convince her otherwise. So, I took the scraggly, unwanted little calf to the house where we kept her for a few days before she eventually made it to my sister’s place where her young daughters raised her as a pet and christened her with the name Lilly.

Lilly is now back in the herd where she is a mediocre cow, at best. But she breeds back at least every other year, and when my nieces visit, Lilly always gets some sort of special treatment. From a practical standpoint, the argument could be made that Lilly is hardly worth the trouble. In that regard, I may have been better off if I’d never even found her that night. Yet, when I see that unremarkable black cow, because I know her story, I’m somehow reminded of the most remarkable of events.

I’m by no means a biblical scholar, but pardon me if I wax biblical for a minute. Besides, if I’m going to pretend to be something, it’s probably appropriate this time of year to pretend I’m at least a fair to middling student of the Good Book. I’m also not a sheep herder, but being a keeper of critters of various form, I’ve always felt sort of a kinship with those who are spoken of in such high and reverent regard in the New Testament. Of course, the most renowned were those who, at the time, probably figured they drew the short straw when they got stuck with the night shift on what turned out to be the most holy of nights. They heeded the call of none other than an angel and left their flocks that night to go and see the baby of an unremarkable and destitute couple, holed up in an even less remarkable place.


That particular baby grew up in unremarkable and humble circumstances, and in His short time in the existing ministry of the time, often spoke of and taught from the examples of shepherds and their flocks. He spoke of the shepherd leaving his flock of 99 sheep in search of that one that went astray and of the shepherd’s rejoicing upon finding the lost one. Another time,

He talked of a shepherd dividing his sheep from his goats. In that same conversation, He taught one of His most poignant and meaningful lessons, when He said, speaking metaphorically of a king’s reply to his servants, “… Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (Matthew 25:40 KJV).

This specific verse has occasionally caused me a little painful prick in my heart when I think of some of the action and inaction of my younger self. I imagine the experiences of my elementary and high school years were not so different than most. There were always those few kids who, through no fault of their own, were singled out and bullied for some inane reason.

They were big or short or poor, or wore glasses or old clothes. I don’t remember that I was really overtly cruel or mean, but I vividly remember that I all too often did absolutely nothing. I didn’t go out of my way to dissuade the bullies. I didn’t go out of my way to be a friend to those who sorely needed a friend. I probably went out of my way to avoid those kids. The hardest part of that realization is, I think, that I can’t fix those mistakes – mistakes that haunted me when I sent my own kids off to school and now, as I watch them do the same with their own little ones. I always hope they are not the lost or unwanted ones.

But my greater hope is that they will be brave enough and kind enough to, if necessary, leave the comfort of the flock to seek out and comfort the lost and unwanted souls. I’ve come to know the best way to really find your best self is to lose yourself in the service of someone else – especially “the least” of them.

Merry Christmas. end mark

Paul Marchant
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