It was a gray day. The clouds were overcast and it looked like rain. The calves had been moved to the branding pen and everything was in place. The fire was hot and the branding irons had started to glow a reddish orange. The young preacher had always heard that because of the toughness of the calf’s hide they would not feel the heat from the iron. It wasn’t long before the preacher began to question the truth of that statement. Calf after calf was thrown to the ground, held in place while the brand was put on. Each calf, from the moment the branding iron touched the body until the iron was removed, bellered loud and clear. The preacher was convinced within seconds that this was a painful process. One of the cowboys came to the preacher and said “Here, let me show you how this is done. First the calf is grabbed like this and then flipped over. Then we make an incision here, remove these and place them in the bucket.” Again the young preacher was totally awestruck by what was happening. “What did you just do?” “Well,” said the young cowboy, “that calf is now a steer. We remove the testicles. Out here they are called prairie oysters, so the calf does not grow up to do breeding. We are very particular about the breeding process. Only certain calves will grow up to do breeding. Others will be raised for slaughter.” The preacher was stunned. All he could think about was what he had just seen and the explanation for it. Then just as quickly the next calf began to beller. The iron had left its brand. The calf jumped up and ran to the other side of the pen. The preacher took his turn. The next calf was caught, flipped and held in place for each of the tasks that needed to be done. The preacher wondered if all this was necessary. He heard the words about stray calves, about the economics of ranching, all words that just bounced around in his head. There had to be a better way. There just had to be a better way is all he could think. Calf after calf was caught, flipped, cut and branded. After a few moments it just became a part of the process. One of the cowboys said things were going really well and it looks like the branding would be done before the rain would come. The young preacher worked quietly flipping the calves and holding them in place while the work was going on.
Then all of a sudden there was only one calf left. It was Jasper. This was the preacher’s calf. The preacher had helped deliver this one. It didn’t breathe at first. The preacher blew into his nostrils until Jasper came to life. It was the preacher who mixed the formula every day to make sure this calf had food. It was the preacher who would give the calf a hand full of oats. This was the calf that played in the yard like a dog. This is the calf on many occasions the preacher had wrestled to the ground only to let him run free and jump around again. Now, this was the calf that was about to experience something awful. The preacher knew that the calf would feel the knife. The preacher knew the calf would feel the brand. All of the calves were finished except Jasper. All of the calves walked by Jasper and bellered at him. It was as if they were blaming him, you led us here; you said he was to be trusted. He is just like all the rest. We knew what to expect but you said he was to be trusted. Jasper stood there. The preacher called for him. He stood silently. Then he slowly walked to the preacher. The preacher said nothing. Jasper then laid down. The preacher held him. The cut and then the brand happened. Jasper did not beller, Jasper did not move. The preacher let go and stood back. Jasper stood up and slowly walked away. He went back to the corner away from all the other calves. He turned and looked to the preacher. His eyes watered. It was as if he was asking why? I don’t understand. I thought this would never happen. Why did you allow this to happen? The preacher stood in silence. “Please,” thought the preacher. “There are a lot of things I wish could be different. I only know there are times when others will see your brand and will know who you belong to. They will understand that that brand identifies boundaries. That brand will identify your calling.”
Just as the suffering Jesus experienced let the world know what he was about, it also lets others know what we are about. Just as Jesus did not run from his moment of pain we are all called to walk with dignity and humility in our pain. One of the tragedies of life is that humanity has strangely come to understand grace only when touched by the brokenness of others.