In the life of Moses, in Hebrew folklore, there is a remarkable passage. Moses finds a shepherd in the desert. He spends the day with the shepherd and helps him to milk his ewes, and at the end of the day he sees that the shepherd puts the best milk he has into a bowl, which he places on a flat stone some distance away. So Moses asks him what it is for and the shepherd replies, “This is God’s milk.” Moses is puzzled and asks him what he means. The shepherd says, “I always take the best milk I posess, and I bring it as an offering to God.”As the Anchoress says, "There are so many lessons in this little story that you could think on it for a very long time." She draws a couple good ones. But the way the story hit me applies to the pastor's role, and also to the way many of us as evangelicals have learned to relate to people.
Moses, who is far more sophisticated than the shepherd with his naive faith, asks, “And does God drink it?”
“Yes,” replies the shepherd, “He does.”
Then Moses feels compelled to enlighten the poor shepherd and he explains that God, being pure spirit, does not drink milk. Yet the shepherd is sure that He does, and so they have a short argument, which ends with Moses telling the shepherd to hide behind the bushes to find out whether in fact God does come to drink the milk.
Moses then goes out to pray in the desert. The shepherd hides, the night comes, and in the moonlight the shepherd sees a little fox that comes trotting from the desert, looks right, looks left and heads straight towards the milk, which he laps up, and disappears into the desert again.
The next morning Moses finds the shepherd quite depressed and downcast. “What’s the matter?” he asks.
The shepherd says “You were right, God is pure spirit and He doesn’t want my milk.” Moses is surprised. He says “you should be happy. You know more about God than you did before.”
“Yes, I do,” says the shepherd, “but the only thing I could do to express my love for Him has been taken away from me.”
Moses sees the point. He retires into the desert and prays hard. In the night, in a vision, God speaks to him and says “Moses, you were wrong. It is true that I am pure spirit. Nevertheless, I always accepted with gratitude the milk which the shepherd offered me as the expression of his love, but since, being pure spirit, I do not need the milk, I shared it with this little fox, who is very fond of milk.”
Often we get so wrapped up in correcting people's faulty theology that we may lapse into error ourselves. We focus on orthodoxy (right doctrine) and neglect orthopraxy (right practice). In the story above, Moses was "right" in what he taught the man, but wrong in how he related to the man, how he saw the man's actions, and in the outcome he achieved.
How often do I do the same as a pastor?