Summary: #7 in Proverbs and Parables series Matthew 24:45-51 with Proverbs If you want a clean, tidy church just get rid of the people. As God’s servants we are in the people business.
Where no Oxen are the Barn is Clean
SCRIPTURE READING: Matthew 24:45-51
You will notice in the parable _________________ read that the good servant did the job of overseeing other servants and making sure everyone was fed and cared for. If you’ve ever cooked for a crowd, you know that cooking is hot, messy work. And overseeing people always gets messy. It would be easier to leave the kitchen spotless, take off, and party somewhere else.
One thing that parable tells us is that serving God will not be easy, neat, and tidy. Proverbs 14:4 makes the same point in a different way: Where no oxen are, the barn is clean, but much increase is by the strength of the ox.
This is an obscure verse I’d never noticed before. But the message is an interesting one. Basically, what we see in the Proverb is a tension between the desire for a clean barn and the need for a “filled” barn. I’ve noticed, through the years, that certain tensions are always a part of church life.
· The tension between being inclusive or exclusive is one example. Are we more like a rescue station or a country club?
· Then, there’s the tension between “inreach” and outreach. How much effort should we put into discipleship and how much into evangelism? Should we focus on getting closer to each other or on bringing in new people?
· Then there’s the tension between teaching the word of God and the importance of social outreach.
In all these cases, both are needed. The secret is to find a BALANCE that includes both.
Proverbs 14:4 illustrates the tension between keeping the church organized and tidy and keeping the church full and growing.
If you want a sweet-smelling, picturesque little show-place of a barn, you’d better not put any oxen in there! On the other hand, if you want a FULL barn, you’ll get some oxen. And you’re going to have to put up with the mess they’re going to make. Clean barns are nice looking. But if you think about it, the purpose of a barn is not to be CLEAN, but to be FILLED. The best time of the year for the farmer is at the end of harvest time when the barns are full of grain. For a farmer, that’s their big ANNUAL payday!
So what does that have to do with the Ox? Well, when Proverbs was written, the ox was the farmer’s tractor. He plowed with it, he watered his crops with it, he harvested with it, he ground his flour with it. The more oxen, the more productivity!
But on the other hand, the ox was also a source of trouble to the farmer. The ox had to be fed daily, and it took a lot of feed to satisfy the appetite of the working ox. The ox had to be sheltered from the wet and cold in order to stay healthy. He had to be penned in so he didn’t wander off and get into trouble. He had to be doctored when sick or injured; and oh, the smelly mess found in the ox stall!
Do you see the tension here? Dealing with an ox is worth all the trouble if you care about filling the barn. But if what you care about is a clean barn, then by all means, get rid of the ox!
1. Symbolism of the Ox
It’s interesting to notice that the ox has special significance in scripture.
For one thing, the ox is used as an example of what it means to be a servant. An ox was not especially beautiful or entertaining. In fact, he was awkward and smelly. But an ox was always useful.
· He pulled the plow to prepare the soil for crops
· He pulled the carts to transport the produce.
· He was used to grind grain into flour.
· He was used in drawing large amounts of water from the well
· Basically, he was used for anything too hard for a human to do.
The ox is used as a metaphor for the Messiah in Isaiah 50:6. This verse says that in the same way that the ox gives his back to hard labor, the Lord’s servant will give his back to those who beat him.
And in the book of I Corinthians, Paul twice uses the ox as a symbol for the preaching ministers. (I Cor. 5:18 & 9:9 Paul says those who preach the gospel are worthy of their hire and not to be muzzled --- like the ox who treads out grain and is allowed to eat some of it in the process. (Naturally, the Ox is not the symbol I might tend to choose to illustrate the preacher. An ox is not the brightest creature on earth … But maybe that’s part of the point Paul was making …)