Part three of an article based on a talk given by May Tripp at the Retreat For Animal Welfare, Maryvale, 19th June, 1993. This article is included in the book, “Animal Welfare: Through The Cross, A Collection Of Animal Christian Concern Articles” by Roslyne Smith. The book can be purchased here.
In Part Two, May was explaining that “[t]his is not a comfortable world for any committed Christian.” It is not comfortable for animal welfarists either, enquirers want to know what Jesus did about eating meat. May’s first thought to offer, is that she “cannot conceive that He could have had less compassion for slaughtered animals than we here do: “no servant is greater than his master” (John 13 v 16). ” May continues…
My own understanding is that, in the area in which Jesus lived and ministered, very little red meat was eaten. Sheep were reared largely for wool and the number of those animals which were eaten was largely limited by sacrificial laws. Then again, in those times animals were all, “free range”, and a good Jew would take it for granted that they would all have been well cared for (Proverbs 12). Yet Jesus did, very angrily, cleanse the Temple of the sacrificial animals and their traders. I do not believe that His passions were stirred merely by the financial exploitation involved or even by the misuse of the Temple Courts. I do believe that He would have been sickened by the slaughter and even that He, as Lamb of God preparing to be sacrificed Himself in order to raise us all above our fallenness, was at this event symbolically cleansing God’s Temple of all further need of animal sacrifice. It could have been possible for Jesus, without even declaring Himself, “vegetarian”, to live and minister without eating meat. But my understanding also is that the area was very heavily dependent upon the eating of fish and that the bulk of the population could scarcely have survived without it. Here we have Jesus drawing Peter, Andrew, James & John away from their trade as fishermen, but also miraculously sharing out bread and fish to His hungry followers. We do not know whether He ate the fish Himself on that occasion, but we are told that Christ did eat fish with His disciples after the Resurrection as a confirmation that He had indeed risen in the flesh.
I do not believe that Jesus ate Passover lamb at the Last Supper. According to the Gospel of St John, Jesus’ death on the Cross coincided with the slaying of the paschal lambs the day before the Passover. What could have been more appropriate for the sacrifice of the Lamb of God?
But really, you know, all this speculation about what Jesus actually did is quite irrelevant when you know Jesus for yourself. This is what makes it virtually impossible to explain to a secular animal welfarist, for our understanding in this is totally dependent upon our understanding of the divinity and purpose of Christ Jesus; of our realisation of what happened at the Fall and what a vast and terrible effect this had upon the whole creation (Genesis 3).
All vegetarians, Christian and non-Christian alike, have had to live through pain for the fallenness of creation and for the suffering of its creatures – this in itself is a sharing of the pain of Christ’s Cross. How many of us here are, like me, so foolish as to have wept for a worm trapped helplessly in the beak of a bird, or to have pursued a woodlouse struggling across a barren carpet to return it to its teeming fellows in the garden, or indeed to have felt anger at the inevitability of the death of the greenfly or grubs which had made their home on the green vegetables we need to eat. Yes, absurd – but also deeply fundamental, I believe, in that this absurdity points to an awareness of the sufferings of a fallen and suffering creation. It is the absurdity of a, “fool”, for Christ, recognised by us all in St Francis of Assisi. (1 Corinthians 3 v 18).
We know that the New Testament contains, “hard sayings”, of Jesus in which his words are difficult to understand – impossible I believe unless you read them within the context of the Fall and of Redemption. But the Old Testament is even worse in this respect, for me at any rate. At one time I would not look at the Old Testament or listen in church when it was read and I remember one Maundy Thursday when I almost walked out of church during the reading of the passage which described the preparation of the Passover lamb. That ruined my Easter. But the passage which troubled me the most and which I tried the hardest to avoid was that of Genesis 4 v 2-7. You know it, the one where Cain worked the land exactly in accordance with the instructions of Genesis 1 and in the course of time offered the fruits of his labour to God. His brother Abel had become a shepherd and he killed the first born lamb of his flock, a killing not in accordance with the will of God as outlined in Genesis 1. But what happened? God accepted the lamb and rejected the fruits of the soil. Why? How can animal welfarists accept this, a puzzle even to orthodox Christians?
Well, as I say, I avoided such passages and tried to discount them. But we can’t do that and certainly after founding ACC I had to take note of these things. One day, worrying on this story, I had a sudden thought. The thought was to compare it with the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15) and I now believe that the answer to this troublesome story of Cain and Abel lies within that parable. Here also we have two sons, one who is living by his father’s rules and one who is not. Yet the father chooses to honour the son who has flouted his will, simply because he has returned to him in love and trust. Here, too, we have an apparently righteous, but a deeply angry and jealous son. In the forgiving father we recognise how glad our own heavenly Father always is to welcome home a penitent sinner: A penitent sinner like Abel who had faithfully presented his slain lamb. But the apparently righteous Cain, instead of rejoicing with his brother Abel, killed him; and what the elder brother of the prodigal son did we do not know. Both these stories speak of the inherent fallenness of our world and of our chance for forgiveness, a chance often rejected. Animal welfarists are hurt by the celebratory killing of the, “fattened calf”, in Luke 15. They shouldn’t be. What this story tells us is that it is Christ Himself, sacrificed upon the Cross, just as innocently as the, “fattened calf”, and Abel’s first born lamb were sacrificed, who brings about the celebration of our reconciliation with God, our Father. We see that reconciliation in all its glorious wonder when, like John, we look at, “the Lamb looking as if it had been slain” (Rev 5 v 6), now at one with God the Father and taking to Himself the love of the whole creation.
How difficult it is for a secular animal welfarist to understand the pattern of animal sacrifice throughout the Old Testament and the necessity of Christ’s own sacrifice in the New Testament. How difficult indeed for us Christians to understand it. In this we are little better than Peter, who hotly argued against the need for our Lord’s impending death and had to be told, “Get behind me, Satan”, (Matt 16 v 23) for truly when we question the need of the Cross we do Satan’s work for him. Somehow in our fallen world the sacrifice of the innocent seems always to be there and even today we, as Christians, are sent out, “to be a living sacrifice … to live and work to His praise and glory.” These difficulties of understanding are not helped by the ubiquitous detraction’s of Christ Jesus which abound in the media today. These seek to turn Christ into a prophet at best or a terrorist at worst. What else can we expect of a media guided by the values of a fallen world? One of the most popular of these detractions is that which seeks to discount the first ten chapters of Genesis, and whilst this at first glance looks to be fairly harmless and fits very neatly into an acceptance of Darwin’s theory of evolution, a closer examination will note that by throwing out these early chapters of Genesis, the concept of the Fall has been successfully removed. The logical extension of this removal has then taken away our need of redemption, our need of a Saviour – our need of the Cross. Not only have the early chapters of Genesis, the concept of our separation from God, and the concept of the Fall, been removed but most of the Truth of the Gospel has been negated. The Cross has become an unhappy failure instead of the sacrifice which has reconciled us to God, our Father in heaven.
Stay tuned for part four of “Through The Cross To The New Creation, The Church In Action”. For those who would like to read the entire article: THROUGH-THE-CROSS Article 10
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