While I was a pastor at a small country church in west Georgia, I started a Wednesday night program where the whole church would come together for dinner, then I would tell a Bible Story to the adults and children. Afterwards, the different ages would break apart to discuss the story. My husband would lead the adult discussion and I would take the teens. Others would take the younger kids and babies. It was an awful lot of fun and we always had a full house of people and a parking lot that overflowed into an adjoining field.
One night I told the story of Balaam’s Ass… this is an Old Testament story of a donkey that actually spoke to warn its owner of impending danger. I used the word “ass” in telling the story because it made it funnier and was proceeded by an hilarious discussion of when it is okay to say “ass” and when we better not. Every time I would say the word “ass”, the kids would laugh and together we would cover our ears.
When the ass saw that its owner, Balaam, was going where God did not want him to go, it refused to carry its owner any further and lay down. Balaam didn’t understand why the ass was lying down so Balaam struck the ass with his staff.
Then the LORD opened the mouth of the ass, and it said to Balaam, “What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?”
Balaam said to the ass, “Because you have made a fool of me! I wish I had a sword in my hand! I would kill you right now!”
But the ass said to Balaam, “Am I not your ass, which you have ridden all your life to this day? Have I been in the habit of treating you this way?”
And Balaam said, “No.”
Then the LORD opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the danger in going the way God did not want him to go.
— Adapted from Numbers 22
After I told the story, everyone separated into their age related groups. Then, to start the adult discussion, my husband asked, “Do you have someone or something that warns you of danger?”
One of the men, forty-something, and an elder in the church spoke up. Before I tell you what he said, you must get your deepest Southern accent ready. Ready? Here goes…
The church elder, in front of God and everyone, said:
“Pastor April is my ass!”
For a moment, my husband thought maybe he should punch the guy, but then realized that being the guy’s ass meant that I was warning him when he was going the wrong way. And that was exactly one of the things a pastor is supposed to do for her congregants.
So – for my pastor and priest friends – if you’ve ever been called an ass at church – just maybe – maybe – it was meant as a compliment! Then again… 🙂
April describes herself as a Red Letter Christian who writes about scripture and spiritual disciplines. See her latest book, James in the Suburbs: The Disorderly Parable of the Epistle of James. Great for group Bible studies!