It is an old story that parents often tell; or at least, tell, their children. Don’t cry wolf. Although the book wasn’t published until 1867, the story was originally one of Aesop’s Fables, written before the 4th century BCE, when it was first compiled in a 10-volume series by Demetrius of Phalerum, an Athenian orator and statesman. The actual authorship isn’t known; these stories were gathered together under one author’s name, but probably came from many different sources. “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” is a simple story with a simple moral. The boy was lonely while he was watching the sheep, so he would yell “Wolf!” so the villagers would interact with him. When the wolf finally did appear, nobody listened, and tragedy ensued.
I see this all of the time, and we in the church are probably as guilty of it as anyone else. We complain because things aren’t what they used to be; we bemoan our lower attendance and membership as a sign that it is the end of the church. We point fingers at what seems to be lower moral standards and higher incidents of sin. A particularly vocal portion of Christians points to wars and rumors of war, shouting as loudly as possible that we all better get our act together, because Jesus is coming soon. We cry wolf in politics, pointing to social change or high prices or immoral politicians as signs that democracy is about to tank.
We do it in our personal lives as well; how often do we hear friends and family complain about something that, to us, seems meaningless. I don’t want to minimize anything people perceive to be difficult, but I can also see how people might turn a deaf ear to someone complaining about their “first world problems”. We are, in many ways, a culture of complaint. We live in an amazing country that, while it could be so much better, is already pretty great. Most of us have what we need, and those of us care about those who don’t have enough work to help them get what they need.
When women finally were about to get the vote in 1919, Sen. Thomas Hardwick of Georgia counseled Northern legislators to “pause before you put your feet into the very footprints of the same mistake that your fathers made just after the Civil War.” One of the greatest fears was that giving black women the vote would restart the Civil War. When same-sex marriage was finally legalized after the Supreme Court decision of 2013, those opposed warned that it would be the end of the institution of marriage. Any time a step is about to be taken towards progress, naysayers cry wolf, believing these changes will bring about destruction to the American way of life.
I like to save my energy for problems that are real and present dangers. We will all have victories and defeats; we will all face tragedies and joys; in all of this, the Apostle Paul wrote, we are in it together. “When one suffers, all suffer; when one is honored, all are honored.” (I Corinthians 12). Nobody needs to cry wolf, because there are plenty of us there to listen and help in times of need. For the church, maybe we should look around us and be thankful, rather than complain about what we perceive to be lost. Maybe then our cries will be heard; maybe then, when the wolf actually does appear, we will be ready.
Prayer – We are grateful that You hear our cries, and that You answer them, encouraging and supportive of God. In the meantime, give us hope and courage to face each day together. Amen.
Today’s art is Francis Barlow’s illustration of the boy who cried wolf from 1687.