Mutton Bustin’

by DanWolgemuth on January 20, 2012

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard.”  (Matthew 20:1)

The National Western Stock Show has been a longstanding tradition in Denver. Expos, displays, rodeos and wildly over-priced mediocre food are just a few of the characteristics. For the first time Mary and I made our way to one of the nights that the event runs. This culminated in a first class western rodeo that included men being pitched off of the backs of very large and fiercely-irritated animals; other men chasing down and wrestling confused animals, and of course, the classic and very entertaining Mutton Bustin’.

For those of you unfamiliar with the latter – this is an activity where young children, ages 5 to 7 (and under 55 pounds), are placed on the back of a sheep that is considerably larger, as they are propelled out of a holding chute for as long as the young child can hold on. The crowd roars and laughs and cheers.

Some children barely stay on the animal for a few full speed strides; others cling to the wooly coat with a combination of determination and terror. At the conclusion of the rapid-fire event, all of the Denver participants were lined up on the rodeo floor – roughly a dozen of them – and “real cowboys” emerged with towering trophies.

Not just one trophy for the young contestant that held on the longest, but a dozen, equally flashy prizes for each of the participants.

The cowboys lifted the children and the trophy high into the air and the crowd applauded its approval.

Minutes later we were back into the bone-jarring reality of the competition. Cowboys competing with only seconds separating them. National champions against newcomers – all dreaming to do better than everyone else.

The contrast was powerful to me. None of the twelve children who had each received an oversized trophy complained about the comparative performance quality or discrepancies. They simply hoisted a trophy that was beyond their expectation and well beyond their achievement.

Perhaps this is a bit of what Jesus had in mind when He unwrapped a mysterious parable in Matthew 20. Laborers, with wildly disparate work effort and results, all hoisting the same trophy, but with resentment, criticism, and jealousy.

Our trophy is a gift. We hoist it with gratitude and humility – having simply been faithful to cling to Jesus. We look at others, equally as undeserving, with gratitude and celebration and joy and hope.

I wonder if this is a small picture of what Jesus had in mind.

Matthew 20 unlocked at the Western National Stock Show.

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