George Bowers Sr.: Show sheep or market lambs?

Another Shenandoah County Fair has come and almost gone. It’s nearly over except for the packing up, cleaning up, and the resting up. If you haven’t yet attended this 100th anniversary year, you’d better hurry before all the hullabaloo concludes.

Fair time is a highlight for many in the county and it provides the perfect opportunity to visit with friends while enjoying some really delicious, if unhealthy, cuisine.

While I enjoy seeing who won the blue ribbons in the exhibit buildings, one of my favorite visits is to the cattle barns. I like to stroll through the livestock and review some really excellent animals from Shenandoah County farms. Various breeds of cattle, sheep, hogs, and goats add a special dimension to the annual event. Both adults and children work hard year round to prepare their animals for this climactic affair.

In addition to the breeding stock, you find the market animals exhibited by FFA and 4-H members. These particular critters have been bred or purchased and carefully fed in the months leading up the show with one primary purpose in mind: winning. While each competitor understands not everyone can triumph, all dream of taking home the Grand Champion banner.

As a former Agricultural Education instructor, I appreciate the intensity and seriousness with which these young people take their tasks. Record books reveal the hours and dollars each child has spent leading up to show day. Not only do they concentrate on feeding and exercising their animals to present them at peak condition, but they also work with them for the showmanship contests which say more about the youth than their animals.

In the market shows, however, the animals take center stage. The excitement builds as the contestants lead their animals into the ring and present them before the discerning judge. One by one each entry is evaluated and appraised. After what seems like an eternity, the judge will walk over and congratulate the winners and then explain how and why the decisions were made, after which the animals are returned to their pens.

That trip to the show ring for judging is not their final visit there, however. Each market animal must return for the Saturday evening auction. It is always heartwarming to see hundreds of local businesses and individuals supporting our youth while driving prices up above market value. This not only covers expenses but provides seed money for next year’s show, school clothing and supplies, and in some cases, college savings.

As I pondered this annual event, I thought of the contrast between the show and the sale. I’m sure if the sheep could talk, they’d tell you how they prefer the show. To be paraded around and praised by the judge has to be very uplifting. I’m sure they’d also tell us how much they enjoy the crowd’s applause and the receipt of the ribbons.

What I bet they wouldn’t be as excited about, however, is the sale. Not only do they part ways with their owner to whom they’ve grown close, but it also means that slaughter is not far off. In spite of the competitive fervor and accolades, the ultimate purpose for these animals is meat production to provide human nutrition throughout the valley and beyond. In fact, it is those very characteristics affecting meat quality that they are judged by in their shows.

It’s not coincidental that Jesus referred to us as sheep. Given the option, I dare say most of us would rather be shown than slaughtered. Many of us like to show off and be seen but very few get excited about sacrifice. Jesus, however, was different. Although the Pharisees paraded around the ring strutting their stuff, Jesus quietly went about helping the poor and sacrificing Himself, even while alive, for the benefit of others. Ultimately, He was led like a market lamb to slaughter and sacrificed Himself upon the cross to bring nourishing life to all will receive Him.

Still today, Jesus isn’t much interested in outward appearances. His will for His followers is that we be ready for sacrifice rather than looks. It’s not nearly as glamourous and it doesn’t win many ribbons in the show ring of this earth, but in heaven, these are the attributes that will earn His eternal applause.

Let’s allow another year of great livestock shows at the fair to remind us of our ultimate purpose as Christians and let us live sacrificially to bless and help others. In Jesus, George

George Bowers Sr. is the Senior Pastor of Antioch Church of the Brethren and has authored nine books including his latest, Valley Verses, Volume III. He can be reached through www.georgebowersministries.com or at gabowers@shentel.net