GERALD COWAN’S PERSONAL PERIODICALS
Number 615 • February 17, 2021
SHOOTER’S MISTAKES — THE SHOOTER IS RESPONSIBLE FOR THE SHOT —
The parables selected for this essay — whether invented by me or adapted from something told by others – have been told by me before. There’s no law that every story told or every sermon preached or printed has to be original and used but once. Sometimes it takes repeated hearings before the intended message is understood and absorbed. As we sometimes say in cliché, “If at first you don’t get your point across, try again – repeat as necessary.” Second shots may hit what first shots miss. Other pointed lessons may be learned from the same illustration. Jesus repeated some of his parables and other lessons. So did apostle Paul.
At the risk of seeming tedious, I’m doing a little recycling here. I have told all but one of these stories before. Hopefully the cumulative weight being retold here will bring a good result. Maybe, at least, each of the stories will stick in the mind and be of help in the future.
A certain farmer was plagued by crows that were scratching up and eating his newly planted seed. He sneaked up to the edge of his field with a shotgun and shot several times, killing many crows on the ground and in the air as they were flying away. When he gathered up the dead crows he also found his children’s pet parrot. Until then he wasn’t aware that the parrot was hanging out with the crows. When he brought the dead parrot back to the house the children asked, “Daddy, what happened to Pretty Polly? What caused her to die?” He said, “Polly died because she was keeping bad company.”
There’s an easy lesson there. Those who associate with the wicked should not be surprised if, when retribution comes, they receive some fallout from it themselves. To put it another way, if you don’t want to share the punishment of the wicked, you’d better not be in fellowship with them. “You know,” daddy said, “There’s a line in one of your songs that says ‘O be careful little feet where you go.’” You can’t hang out with the unrighteous without expecting some of the consequences when they are caught and punished.
I’ve actually heard people say, “I hope the Lord does not come while I’m in this place doing what I’m doing.” If that thought ever crosses your mind maybe you’d better stop doing what you’re doing and get out of that place and any others like it. He will probably come when you least expect it, and without any advance warning – he will not ask for your approval and permission. Don’t think you can get away with saying, “I wasn’t doing anything. I was just watching.” Watching while others sin – only doing it with your eyes – is having fellowship in their sins. “Oh, be careful little eyes, what you see.”
Another farmer was being bothered by a weasel that was stealing his chickens. He could find no way to keep the predator out of the chicken house, so he decided to set up an ambush. He went to the chicken house late one night and waited quietly inside with a shotgun and a flashlight. He wasn’t disappointed because the chicken-loving thief soon came calling. He fired one shot and, with the flashlight soon found that his aim had been good. He had eliminated the weasel. But he had also eliminated six of his finest chickens. One shot at the weasel had also killed much of what he was trying to protect.
What’s the lesson in this? Among others, there’s this important one: if you’re going to shoot an enemy be sure your friends are not in the line of fire. Here’s another: if you must shoot when the innocent are present, don’t use a scattergun. As the sent arrow does not return unsent to the bow, the shot bullet does not return unshot to the gun, whether or not it hits an intended target. Even an unintended or accidental shot can hurt and kill – saying you didn’t intend to hurt or kill does not undo any damage you have done. “Oh be careful little hands what you do.”
Here’s another shooting error. The unbridled mouth is a weapon, a gun that can shoot out deadly bullets that pierce the heart, wound the spirit, and break down the defenses of its targets. But it is too often a scattergun. A lot of innocent people get hurt. It reminds me of a man who was being hurt by a vicious rumor a woman had started. His response to the problem was to start a rumor, just as vicious, about the woman. This is called “tit for tat.” In practical terms it means the first shot is seldom the last shot to be fired. In other words, “If you say something bad about me I will say something worse about you.” In this case it spread until both their families were dragged into the mess and suffered irreparable damage. The intended target got hit. So did some unintended targets who didn’t deserve it at all. There’s another verse of the children’s song that says: “O be careful little mouth what you say.”
You may not be shooting at crows or weasels, but it is quite likely that you will be shooting off your mouth. Be careful. Once fired, the bullets do not come back into the gun. Once spoken, words cannot be unspoken or taken back Too many guns are fired by mistake. The mouth is the gun most often fired by mistake. It would be wonderful if we never hurt anybody and were never hurt by anybody. It would be wonderful if we never hurt ourselves. But of course none of that is likely to happen. We have said and done things that we had cause to regret immediately afterward. When we have been hurt by others, Jesus can heal the wounds, but the scars may remain to mar fellowship with the perpetrator. When we have hurt others, Jesus can forgive the sin but he may not remove the scars. In both cases, Jesus can help us mend the relationships with himself, with others, and even help to mend our thoughts about ourselves. And of course that is wonderful indeed!
A certain man was being threatened with violence – he knew his very life was in danger and that enemies were seeking him. But he didn’t know who the enemies were. He became quite paranoid: he suspected everybody, did not trust anybody. One evening he noticed he was being followed by someone he did not recognize. He hid himself, then watched and and waited for the stranger. As soon as the follower came close enough he shot him and the man fell to the ground. He had determined to ‘Shoot first, ask questions later.’ He approached the fallen man, gun still in hand and ready to shoot again. “Who are you and why are you following me?” he asked. The wounded man responded: “Some of your friends know you are being threatened and are in constant danger. They asked me to follow you and be ready to help you if anybody tried to hurt you.” The shooter felt instant intense remorse – the guilt and shame of hurting someone who is trying to help you. It’s really an easy lesson, isn’t it? Find out if it’s a friend or foe before you act. Ask first, and then shoot only if it is necessary and appropriate. Shooter’s remorse is not easy to bear.
This story reminds me of a former neighbor, a doctor, who lived next door to my family. He was the owner of a dog, a rare breed, large, graceful, very strong, inclined to be fierce – a hunting dog. One day, I saw it happen, the dog was hit by a passing motorist and was lying helpless, howling with pain and apparent confusion and fear. The doctor owner ran to her side, cautioned children and others to stay away while he tried to examine the dog and administer some sort of help, especially to relieve her pain – it appeared that she may have suffered broken bones and could not move. When the doctor reached out to her the dog bit him, savagely and severely, and then died. I think I was the one who commented, “Foolish dog! She attacked the only one who knew how to help her.” The wise doctor corrected me immediately: “She is a dog, not a rational human. She was only trying to protect herself from more damage and pain. It was a completely normal reflex – the kind of knee-jerk response most people make when others do or say something they don’t understand or don’t like.” Wise doctor!
I know myself to be a knee-jerk individual at times – I suspect that you are too. To be honest, we even react to God with irrational reflex actions when He wants to help us, especially when He wants us to stop damaging and destroying ourselves. I wonder how often God sees us as dogs, biting and devouring each other (Galatians 5:15). A limerick I memorized long ago puts it this way:
There once were two cats in Kilkenny.
Each thought there was one cat too many.
So they hissed and they spit,
They clawed and they bit,
‘Til instead of two cats, there weren’t any.