Fellow Passengers: This week’s Promise Passage* (I Kings 22) transports me to Andy Griffith’s Mayberry, in one of my favorite episodes, “The Loaded Goat.” Farmer Cy Hudgins has come to town for his weekly shopping and haircut, and has brought along his goat, Jimmy, because the goat has been nervous with all the blasting going on down at the construction of the new underpass. Cy leaves Jimmy tied to a bench on the sidewalk while he runs some errands, waiting for Floyd to get back from lunch, but it doesn’t take Jimmy long to free himself and explore the town. He finds the shed where the construction crew has stored all its dynamite, and helps himself to several sticks. Goats will eat anything, after all. When this is discovered, Andy and Barney set up a special padded cell for the goat. A comedy of near-misses ensues, as the mayor comes in smoking a cigar and immediately gets a blast from Barney’s fire extinguisher, then the town drunk Otis comes in and discovers the goat in his cell. Anything could set the goat off; as Barney says, one wrong move and everything goes blooey. As luck would have it, Barney’s harmonica playing proves soothing to Jimmy’s nerves, so he plays pied piper and leads Jimmy far out of town, out of harm’s way. Barney and Andy stake the goat in a nice field where he can eat grass and presumably pass the powerful sticks without any blooey.
Today’s passage deals with sheep, not goats, but it is loaded nonetheless. It speaks to the precarious situation that arises when the community of faith consumes a bellyfull of power, of dynamite (from the Greek word dynamis, meaning power.) The covenant community at this point is divided into northern and southern kingdoms, and the respective kings have untethered themselves from the foundational trust in God and have wandered into the world of power politics, swallowing the belief that their security lies in human strength and alliances of military might. In this particular episode, the King of Judah, Jehoshaphat (aka Jumping Jehoshaphat) is seeking an alliance with Ahab, the King of Israel, to wage war with neighboring Aram. The King doesn’t want to go into battle without the blessing of the prophets, though, and we soon see that the prophetic voice has been largely co-opted into a chorus of yes-men for whatever adventures the King wants to pursue. The King understands that this is hardly a genuine blessing or sign of divine approval, so he seeks out a true prophet, and comes across Micaiah. This is when the story gets interesting. When Micaiah gets the call, and is encouraged to go along with the yes-men, he refuses, saying he’s got to be true to God’s leading. Then he proceeds to give them the very thing they asked for, a vote of confidence. When Jehoshaphat doesn’t jump, Micaiah gives another answer: I saw all Israel scattered on the hills like sheep without a shepherd, and the LORD said, ‘These people have no master. Let each one go home in peace. The King doesn’t like the message, but Micaiah doesn’t let up. He continues with the most cockamamy story imaginable, about how God sought out a lying spirit to go and deceive Ahab, and used this spirit of deception to lure Ahab into war. Micaiah gets a stern slap in the face mid story, but continues, predicting a big blooey on Ahab. The King proceeds to have the prophet arrested, and then goes on to meet his doom in the war, and just as predicted, the dogs lick up his blood at a prostitute’s bath house where they took his chariot to wash.
It’s a crazy story. The sheep without a shepherd, unleashed from the Spirit of God, wander aimlessly into the world’s violent clash of cultures, swallowing the dangerous dynamite of world power, and instead of a pied piper leading the loaded kings out of harm’s way, God deputizes a false spirit to do some deceptive harmonica playing and leads the fools to their demise. It’s a cautionary tale, one that Jesus must have had on his mind as he looked around and saw the people, as Micaiah did, wandering around like sheep without a shepherd. Thankfully, God chose Jesus instead of another deceptive spirit to deal with the loaded goats of the faith community that continued to swallow power, so that now we we have a Pied Piper who tethers us to the stake of nonviolence love, and we can sing with faith, Savior like a shepherd lead us, much we need thy tender care, in thy pleasant pastures feed us, for our use thy folds prepare. Now I’m going to try singing that to the tune of Barney’s harmonica song, (Juanita).