The Parable of the Sheep
by Charles Riggs
Not so long ago and in a pasture too uncomfortably close to here, a flock of
sheep lived and grazed. They were protected by a dog, who answered to the
master, but despite his best efforts from time to time a nearby pack of
wolves would prey upon the flock.
One day a group of sheep, bolder than the rest, met to discuss their
dilemma. "Our dog is good, and vigilant, but he is one and the wolves are
many. The wolves he catches are not always killed, and the master judges and
releases many to prey again upon us, for no reason we can understand. What
can we do? We are sheep, but we do not wish to be food, too!"
One sheep spoke up, saying "It is his teeth and claws that make the wolf so
terrible to us. It is his nature to prey, and he would find any way to do
it, but it is the tools he wields that make it possible. If we had such
teeth, we could fight back, and stop this savagery." The other sheep
clamored in agreement, and they went together to the old bones of the dead
wolves heaped in the corner of the pasture, and gathered fang and claw and
made them into weapons.
That night, when the wolves came, the newly armed sheep sprang up with their
weapons and struck at them, crying, "Begone! We are not food!" and drove off
the wolves, who were astonished. When did sheep become so bold and so
dangerous to wolves? When did sheep grow teeth? It was unthinkable!
The next day, flush with victory and waving their weapons, they approached
the flock to pronounce their discovery. But as they drew nigh, the flock
huddled together and cried out, "Baaaaaaaadddd! Baaaaaddd things! You have
bad things! We are afraid! You are not sheep!"
The brave sheep stopped, amazed. "But we are your brethren!" they cried. "We
are still sheep, but we do not wish to be food. See, our new teeth and claws
protect us and have saved us from slaughter. They do not make us into
wolves, they make us equal to the wolves, and safe from their viciousness!"
"Baaaaaaad!" cried the flock, "the things are bad and will pervert you, and
we fear them You cannot bring them into the flock!" So the armed sheep
resolved to conceal their weapons, for although they had no desire to panic
the flock, they wished to remain in the fold. But they would not return to
those nights of terror, waiting for the wolves to come.
In time, the wolves attacked less often and sought easier prey, for they had
no stomach for fighting sheep who possessed tooth and claw even as they did.
Not knowing which sheep had fangs and which did not, they came toleave sheep
out of their diet almost completely except for the occasional raid, from
which more than one wolf did not return.
Then came the day when, as the flock grazed beside the stream, one sheep's
weapon slipped from the folds of her fleece, and the flock cried out in
terror again, "Baaaaaad! You still possess these evil things! We must ban
you from our presence!"
And so they did. The great chief sheep and his council, encouraged by the
words of their advisors, placed signs and totems at the edges of the pasture
forbidding the presence of hidden weapons there. The armed sheep protested
before the council, saying, "It is our pasture, too, and we have never
harmed you! When can you say we have caused you hurt? It is the wolves, not
we, who prey upon you. We are still sheep, but we are not food!" But the
flock drowned them out with cries of "Baaaaaaddd! We will not hear your
clever words! You and your things are evil and will harm us!"
Saddened by this rejection, the armed sheep moved off and spent their days
on the edges of the flock, trying from time to time to speak with their
brethren to convince them of the wisdom of having such teeth, but meeting
with little success. They found it hard to talk to those who, upon hearing
their words, would roll back their eyes and flee, crying "Baaaaddd! Bad
That night, the wolves happened upon the sheep's totems and signs, and said,
"Truly, these sheep are fools! They have told us they have no teeth!
Brothers, let us feed!" And they set upon the flock, and horrible was the
carnage in the midst of the fold. The dog fought like a demon, and often
seemed to be in two places at once, but even he could not halt the
It was only when the other sheep arrived with their weapons that the wolves
fled, only to remain on the edge of the pasture and wait for the next time
they could prey, for if the sheep were so foolish once, they would be so
again. This they did, and do still.
In the morning, the armed sheep spoke to the flock, and said, "See? If the
wolves know you have no teeth, they will fall upon you. Why be prey? To be a
sheep does not mean to be food for wolves!" But the flock cried out, more
feebly for their voices were fewer, though with no less terror, "Baaaaaaaad!
These things are bad! If they were banished, the wolves would not harm us!
So they resolved to retain their weapons, but to conceal them from the
flock; to endure their fear and loathing, and even to protect their brethren
if the need arose, until the day the flock learned to understand that as
long as there were wolves in the night, sheep would need teeth to repel
They would still be sheep, but they would not be food!
(c) 1997 Charles Riggs
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