Every spring an amazing thing used to happen at the Matthias household in small-town Iowa. Sometime right after Easter, when most of the snow had melted, the mail truck would stop in front of our house.
The mailman would descend his metal steps in a cloud of dust, slide open the big back door of the truck, and then, from the darkness between the stacks of paper, cheeping sounds could be heard. We would watch with great anticipation as the mailman delivered the quivering boxes to the house. We children rubbed our hands, knowing as we opened the boxes the cuteness contained inside the package.
They were our baby chicks, delivered by the mailman’s hand into ours. They were cute at this age, little bundles of tiny yellow feathers. It seemed as if they were innocent golden little marshmallows, on stick-legs. Once I took one of these little chicks and put it to my mouth, blowing on it. The little yellow bird climbed right in my mouth. It was funny for a moment—until it left a present on my tongue.
I didn’t do that again.
Anyway, after the mailman left, we took the boxes of chicks to the dilapidated garage behind the chicken house, where the watering cans and chicken feed were kept. As our dad showed us, it was imperative that we should teach the little birds how to eat and drink right away; if we didn’t, they wouldn’t survive for very long. They were not intuitive in that way. So we stuffed their beaks into the water and up they would come, spluttering and shaking their heads (not quite sure what had happened) and then back into the food trough where they would get a little bit of food on their beaks. Soon enough, the little nuggets were drinking and eating for themselves.
Only because we first had to force-feed them for their own good.
Sometimes at school I still hear the words from students, ‘I don’t like this religion stuff being crammed down our throats’.
Exactly, I think. I smile when they say that, because it means we’ve been doing our job well. If we don’t feed them with the water and the bread of life when they are little, how will they survive? Where will they find hope? If we don’t show them how to take and drink, take and eat; how will they know?—even if they come up spluttering, shaking their heads and wondering, ‘What in the world just happened here?’ We can live in the hope that, even if they aren’t seen at church very often, that someday they will return to the water and bread and consume again.
It’s maybe the most important job that we have to do. King David writes about it: ‘Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, O God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your might to all who are to come (Psalm 71:18).
Next time you see chickens, think about how we can feed them.
Reid Matthias is school pastor at Faith Lutheran College, Plainland, Queensland.