I turned on the car radio to add some variety to my short, all-too-familiar journey home. I was amused to hear an actress, in the dramatic role of an airhead, protesting to a ‘friend’ in a series of mixed metaphors that went something along these lines:
‘I don’t want to throw a spanner in the ointment’ [messier, I suppose, than a mere “fly in the works”], ‘but why did y’call yer baby “John”? Nowadays, every Tom, Dick and Harry is named “John”’ [a gag first uttered by Sam Goldwyn].
In one English lesson in school we were offered as a classic example of mixed metaphors:
‘I smell a rat’ [= I’m suspicious that trouble is about to strike], ‘I see it in the air’ [= I sense the threat in the tense atmosphere], ‘but I will nip it in the bud’ [= I am going to take preventative action].
The pedantic brain of a literalist might get trapped in a meaningless cartoon image of a flying rodent about to blossom as a flower. We were taught to avoid all such gaffs.
So, it came as a surprise to me, on taking a closer look at one of Jesus’ well-known promises to his small band of faithful followers, to realise that even he actually uttered a sentence of mixed metaphors on at least one occasion:
‘Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom’ (Luke 12:32).
A cynic might deride this by asking: ‘Is this scenario a religious alternative to George Orwell’s Animal Farm, in which a fatherly God appoints a committee of a few Christian sheep to replace that of a communistic Napoleon the horse and Boxer the pig?
While I was musing on this statement of our Lord, my daily Bible reading included 1 Chronicles 17: 0 – the historic account of God’s covenant with David. It contains all the ideas conveyed by Jesus’ buzz-words: ‘Father’, ‘flock’ and ‘kingdom’.
Nathan reminded David that all the judges that had governed God’s people in the centuries before his kingship were ‘commanded to shepherd my people’ (1 Chronicles 17:6). And after David’s death: ‘I will raise up…one of your own sons, and I will establish his kingdom. And ‘I will be to him a father and he shall be to me a son’ (verses 1 Chronicles 17: 11-13).
Solomon was the immediate, historic fulfilment of that promise, and Jesus its ultimate, prophetic fulfilment. No doubt, as David’s royal descendent, our Lord made that brief, but most significant statement to those few followers his Father had chosen for him to train to be able to accomplish that ancient prophetic plan. And today so many small, vulnerable communities of his followers [‘little flock’] take heart from that inspiring, coded message of his. So, let the cynics mock and the jihadists roar. But ‘the Lord is [the shepherds’] shepherd’ and ‘goodness and mercy’ still ‘follow’ his disciples like dependable sheepdogs. Therefore, we can sing heartily, ‘I will fear no evil’. (See Psalm 23:1, 6,4.)