The Eisegesis of
Stubby Pringle’s Christmas
A short story by Jack Schaefer
In sending out this simple story, I anticipated some aggravated feedback from some along the lines of, “What does this have to do with the Bible?” or “Where is there any mention of Jesus Christ?” or “How can a Bible teacher send out a story about Santa Claus?” I am sure critics can come up with further examples. Therefore, I had prepared an eisegesis of the story—not that it will necessarily change the minds of sour souls, but more for the enjoyment and edification of those with a sanctified sense of humor, as well as the skill of parabolic eisegesis.
By way of explanation and definition, when we study the Bible, we use a science called “Hermeneutics.” This term comes from the Greek ermenuo (Hermenuo), which came from the Greek god Hermes (note Act 14:12 where Paul, the teacher, was called Hermes). The word in simplest sense of the infinitive means “to interpret, to explain” (see 1Co 14:28). The science of biblical interpretation is thus called Hermeneutics, which seeks to “rightly divide the word of truth” (2Ti 2:15b), approaching the Bible from its grammatical, historical, and cultural setting, using proven rules of interpretation, all the while seeking the indispensable guidance of the Spirit of God (see Joh 14:16-18, Joh 15:26-27, Joh 16:13-14, with 1Jo 2:24-27).
In the work of interpretation, two contrasting and sometimes contradictory methods are utilized. The first approach is called exegesis, from ek ("out, out of, from") and hegeomai ("to lead or guide"). Exegesis is the skill of bringing out of the text what is there, and nothing more. Often translated “to declare,” it is used in a strengthened form in Joh 1:18 of Jesus’ “exegesis” of the Father.
The second approach, called eisegesis, is "to read into" (eis) the story, the meaning you want it to have. For the most part, this is the method used by those who take a non-literal, allegorical approach to Scripture. As a rule, eisegesis makes for lousy interpretation. It does have one place of usefulness, however, when it comes to understanding parables. Remember that, according to Jesus, the purpose of parables is that “whoever has [doctrinal discernment], to him more will be given, and he will have an abundance; but whoever does not have [doctrinal discernment], even what he has will be taken away from him” (Mat 13:12). This statement is made again in Mat 25:29 in relation to eternal rewards, thus clearly connecting approved service to doctrinal understanding and application. The point—as it relates to parables—is that “it takes insight to gain insight,” or put another way, “it takes a level of doctrinal maturity to see what is in the story.” In the story of the Prodigal Son, for example, we have to have a basic biblical understanding in order "to read into” the story the lessons contained in it. Like the story of the Good Samaritan, neither of these stories mention God, faith, or salvation—or for that matter—Scripture. But the mind that is steeped in the Word of God understands the meaning of the story by reading those meanings into the tale. The greater one’s biblical storehouse, the greater the meaning these simple stories impart.
Now, take the simple story of Stubby Pringle, as written by Jack Shaefer. To any typical reader—using human viewpoint—it is simply a “heartwarming” Christmas story, with the good moral of selflessness. Standing by itself in this way, it is still worthy of challenging our self-centered and selfish materialism and commercialism. However, I suspect that most of you are far from typical and do not rely on human viewpoint—at least most of (some of?) the time. Utilizing divine viewpoint, we see the world through different eyes. Every story, every movie (for those of you who are worldly enough—like me—to enjoy some of them) becomes a Bible class, filled with challenging truths. I will never change the minds of the spiritually stodgy and self-righteous, but for the rest of you, let’s now take a look at the story with some sanctified eisegesis:
High on the mountainside by the little line cabin in the crisp clean dusk of evening, Stubby Pringle swings into saddle. He has shape of bear in the dimness, bundled thick against cold. Double socks crowd scarred boots. Leather chaps with hair out, cover patched corduroy pants. Fleece-lined jacket with wear of winters on it bulges body and heavy gloves blunt fingers. Two gay, red bandannas folded together, fatten throat under chin. Battered hat is pulled down to sit on ears, and in side pocket of jacket are rabbit-skin earmuffs he can put to use if he needs them.
Stubby Pringle swings up into saddle. He looks out and down over worlds of snow and ice and tree and rock. He spreads arms wide and they embrace whole ranges of hills. He stretches tall and hat brushes stars in sky. He is Stubby Pringle, cowhand of the Triple X, and this is his night to howl. He is Stubby Pringle, son of the wild jackass, and he is heading for the Christmas dance at the schoolhouse in the valley.
Stubby Pringle swings up and his horse stands like rock. This is the pride of his string, flop-eared, ewe-necked, cat-hipped strawberry roan that looks like it should have died weeks ago but has iron rods for bones and nitroglycerin for blood and can go from here to doomsday with nothing more than mouthfuls of snow for water and tufts of winter-cured bunch-grass snatched between drifts for food. It stands like rock. It knows the folly of trying to unseat Stubby. It wastes no energy in futile explosions. It knows that twenty-seven miles of hard winter going are foreordained for this evening and twenty-seven more of harder uphill return by morning. It has done this before. It is saving the dynamite under its hide for the destiny of a true cowpony which is to take its rider where he wants to go—and bring him back again.
“For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you,
not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think,
but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith.” Rom 12:3
We all have had our “Stubby Pringle” moments, when life is good, enticing prospects are at hand, and we think we have the world by the tail—on a down-hill pull. We see ourselves as strong, wise, intelligent, or invincible. Such thinking is always the intrusion of arrogance produced by our sinful nature. However, God is gracious, and He will provide each of us—as He is about to do for Stubby—some circumstance that will either confirm us in that pride, or humble us. And it will all depend on how we choose to face that situation. Note the plans Stubby has made (cf. Jam 4:13-17), and see how God providentially alters them:
Stubby Pringle sits in his saddle and he grins into cold and distance and future full of festivity. Join me in a look at what can be seen of him despite the bundling and frosty breath vapor that soon will hang icicles on his nose. Those are careless, haphazard scrambled features under the low hatbrim, about as handsome as a blue boar’s snout. Not much fuzz yet on his chin. Why, shucks, is he just a boy? Don’t make that mistake, though his twentieth birthday is still six weeks away. Don’t make the mistake Hutch Handley made last summer when he thought this was young, unseasoned stuff and took to ragging Stubby and wound up with ears pinned back and upper lip split and nose mashed flat and the whole of him dumped in a rainbarrel. Stubby has been taking care of himself since he was orphaned at thirteen. Stubby has been doing man’s work since he was fifteen. Do you think Hardrock Harper of the Triple X would have anything but an all-around hard-proved, hand up here at his farthest winter line camp siding Old Jake Hanlon, toughest hard-bitten old cowman ever to ride range?
Stubby Pringle slips gloved hand under rump to wipe frost off the saddle. No sense letting it melt into patches of corduroy pants. He slaps rightside saddlebag. It contains a burlap bag wrapped around a two-pound box of candy, of fancy chocolates with variegated interiors he acquired two months ago and has kept hidden from Old Jake. He slaps leftside saddlebag. It holds a burlap bag wrapped around a paper parcel that contains a close-folded piece of dress goods and a roll of pink ribbon. Interesting items, yes. They are ammunition for the campaign he has in mind to soften the affections of whichever female of the right vintage among those at the schoolhouse appeals to him most and seems most susceptible.
Stubby Pringle settles himself firmly into the saddle. He is just another of far-scattered, poorly-paid, patched-clothes cowhands that inhabit these parts and likely marks and smells of his calling have not all been scrubbed away. He knows that. But this is his night to howl. He is Stubby Pringle, true-begotten son of the wildest jackass, and he has been riding line through hell and highwater and winter storms for two months without a break, and he has done his share of the work and more than his share because Old Jake is getting along and slowing some and this is his night to stomp floorboards till schoolhouse shakes and kick heels up to lanterns above and whirl a willing female till she is dizzy enough to see past patched clothes to the man inside them. He wriggles toes deep into stirrups and settles himself firmly in the saddle.
“I could of et them choc’lates,” says Old Jake from the cabin doorway. “They wasn’t hid good,” he says. “No good at all.”
“An’ be beat like a drum,” says Stubby. “An’ wrung out like a dirty dishrag.”
“By who?” says Old Jake. “By a young un like you? Why, I’d of tied you in knots afore you knew what’s what iffen you tried it. You’re a dang-blatted young fool,” he says. “A ding-busted, dang-blatted fool. Riding out a night like this iffen it is Chris’mas eve. A dong-bonging, ding-busted, dang-blatted fool,” he says. “But iffen I was your age agin, I reckon I’d be doing it too.” He cackles like an old rooster. “Squeeze one of ‘em for me,” he says and he steps back inside and he closes the door.
Stubby has great plans for the evening. As far as he is concerned, the immediate future is all that concerns him. And that future is all wrapped up in the pleasure and gratification of Stubby. However, there is as they say, a God who rules in the affairs of men. His eye is always on eternity, and eternity means nothing apart from the souls of men, as far as His redemptive plan is concerned. The whole time Stubby (or you or me) is planning his campaign of self-gratification, the Heavenly Father has His eye on a work of transformation in our souls, like that of His Son, Christ Jesus, who came not only that we might live, but live abundantly (Joh 10:10b). And in the Father’s wise plan, abundant living is self-less, not self-centered. Thus God sees in every one of our lives a surrounding host of needy people, each of whom has a gift for us—along the lines of transformation for eternity—if only we are willing to receive the gift of their need, and meet it with our supply. We need no more than what we already have, to both give to that need and receive of its greater gift. One of the greatest statements in all of Scripture regarding giving, is that which is made of Mary, “She has done what she could” (Mar 14:8). All of this is in line with the principle that giving is “accepted according to what one has, and not according to what he does not have” (2Co 8:12b). Now observe our hero as he rides forth:
Stubby Pringle is alone out there in the darkening dusk, alone with flop-eared, ewe-necked, cat-hipped roan that can go to the last trumpet call under him, and with cold of wicked winter wind around him and with twenty-seven miles of snow-dumped distance ahead of him. “Wahoo!” he yells. “Skip to my Loo!” he shouts. “Do-si-do and round about!”
He lifts reins and the roan sighs and lifts feet. At easy, warming-up amble they drop over the edge of benchland where the cabin snugs into tall pines and on down the great bleak expanse of mountainside.
Stubby Pringle, spurs a jingle, jobs upslope through crusted snow. The roan, warmed through, moves strong and steady under him. Line cabin and line work are far forgotten things back and back and up and up the mighty mass of mountain. He is Stubby Pringle, rooting, tooting, hard-working, hard-playing cowhand of the Triple X, heading for the Christmas dance at the schoolhouse in the valley.
He tops out on one of the lower ridges. He pulls rein to give the roan a breather. He brushes an icicle off his nose. He leans forward and reaches to brush several more off sidebars of old bit in the bridge. He straightens tall. Far ahead, over top of last and lowest ridge, on into the valley, he can see tiny specks of glowing allure that are schoolhouse windows. Light and gaiety and good liquor and fluttering skirts are there. “Wahoo!” he yells. “Gals an’ women an’ grandmothers!” he shouts. “Raise your skirts and start askipping! I’m acoming!”
He slaps spurs to roan. It leaps like mountain lion, out and down, full into hard gallop downslope, rushing, reckless of crusted drifts and ice-coated bush-branches slapping at them. He is Stubby Pringle, born with spurs on, nursed on tarantula juice, weaned on rawhide, at home in the saddle of a hurricane in shape of horse that can race to outer edge of eternity and back, heading now for highjinks two months overdue. He is ten feet tall and the horse is gigantic, with wings, iron-boned and dynamite-fueled, soaring in forty-foot leaps down the flank of the whitened wonder of a winter world.
They slow at the bottom. They stop. They look up the rise of the last low ridge ahead. The roan paws frozen ground and snorts twin plumes of frosty vapor. Stubby reaches around to pull down fleece-lined jacket that has worked a bit up back. He pats rightside saddlebag. He pats leftside saddlebag. He lifts reins to soar up and over last low ridge.
Hold it, Stubby. What is that? Off to the right.
He listens. He has ears that can catch snitch of mouse chewing on chunk of bacon rind beyond the log wall by his bunk. He hears. Sound of ax striking wood.
What kind of dong-bonging, ding-busted, dang-blatted fool would be chopping wood on a night like this and on Christmas Eve and with a dance underway at the schoolhouse in the valley? What kind of chopping is this anyway? Uneven in rhythm, feeble in stroke. Trust Stubby Pringle, who has chopped wood enough for cookstove and fireplace to fill a long freight train, to know how an ax should be handled.
There. That does it. That whopping sound can only mean that the blade has hit at an angle and bounced away without biting. Some dong-bonged, ding-busted, dang-blatted fool is going to be cutting off some of his own toes.
He pulls the roan around to the right. He is Stubby Pringle, born to tune of bawling bulls and blatting calves, branded at birth, cowman raised and cowman to the marrow, and no true cowman rides on without stopping to check anything strange on range. Roan chomps on bit, annoyed at interruption. It remembers who is in saddle. It sighs and obeys. They move quietly in dark of night past boles of trees, jet black against dim greyness of crusted snow on ground. Light shows faintly ahead. Lantern light through a small oiled-paper window.
Yes. Of course. Just where it has been for eight months now. The Henderson place. Man and woman and small girl and waist-high boy. Homesteaders. Not even fools, homesteaders. Worse than that. Out of their minds altogether. All of them. Out here anyway. Betting the government they can stave off starving for five years in exchange for one hundred sixty acres of land. Land that just might be able to support seven jack-rabbits and two coyotes and nine rattlesnakes and maybe all of four thin steers to a whole section. In a good year. Homesteaders. Always out of almost everything, money and food and tools and smiles and joy of living. Everything. Except maybe hope and stubborn endurance.
We all have a “Henderson” in our life (apologies to the great Henderson clans of WA and Nebraska). Without fail, in His wise way of teaching us to look beyond the “outward appearance” (1Sa 16:7; Joh 7:24), and Who greatly desires, for our own benefit, that we learn to “love without hypocrisy” (Rom 12:9), God puts us where we must rub shoulders with those who irritate or aggravate us. And it is here that the still, small voice of the Spirit of God calls us to rise above our selfish selves, and demonstrate some small portion of the love of Christ, which should be our guiding motive (2Co 5:14). Stubby’s ingrained sense of responsibility is about to lead him into a divine “set-up,” in which he will become a blessing to others (almost without being aware of it), and in the process be richly blessed himself. And, somewhere along the line, some “dong-bonging, ding-busted, dang-blatted fool” will become an “interruption” in your life and mine, just like the man who foolishly went down the thieves’ road to Jericho was to the Samaritan. Read on!
Stubby Pringle nudges the reluctant roan along. In patch-light from the window by a tangled pile of dead tree branches he sees a woman. Her face is grey and pinched and tired. An old stocking-cap is pulled down on her head. Ragged man’s jacket bumps over long Woolsey dress and clogs arms as she tries to swing an ax into a good-sized branch on the ground.
Whopping sound and ax bounces and barely misses an ankle.
“Quit that!” says Stubby, sharp. He swings the roan in close. He looks down at her. She drops ax and backs away, frightened. She is ready to bolt into two-room, bark-slab shack. She looks up. She sees the haphazard scrambled features under low hatbrim are crinkled in what could be a grin. She relaxes some, hand on door latch.
“Ma’am,” says Stubby. “You trying to cripple yourself?” She just stares at him. “Man’s work,” he says. “Where’s your man?”
“Inside,” she says, then, quick, “he’s sick.”
“Bad?” says Stubby.
“Was,” she says. “Doctor that was here this morning thinks he’ll be all right now. Only he’s almighty weak. All wobbly. Sleeps most of the time.”
“Sleeps,” says Stubby, indignant. “When there’s wood to be chopped.”
“He’s been almighty tired,” she says, quick, defensive. “Even afore he was took sick. Wore out.” She is rubbing cold hands together, trying to warm them. “He tried,” she says, proud. “Only a while ago. Couldn’t even get his pants on. Just fell flat on the floor.”
Stubby looks down at her. “An’ you ain’t tired?” he says.
“I ain’t got time to be tired,” she says. “Not with all I got to do.”
Stubby Pringle looks off past dark boles of trees at last row ridge top that hides valley and schoolhouse. “I reckon I could spare a bit of time,” he says. “Likely they ain’t much more’n started yet,” he says. He looks again at the woman. He sees grey pinched face. He sees cold-shivering under bumpy jacket. “Ma’am,” he says. “Get on in there an’ warm your gizzard some. I’ll just chop you a bit of wood.”
Roan stands with dropping reins, ground-tied, disgusted. It shakes head to send icicles tinkling from bit and bridle. Stopped in midst of epic run, wind-eating, mile-gobbling, iron-boned and dynamite-fueled, and for what? For silly chore of chopping.
Fifteen feet away Stubby Pringle chops wood. Moon is rising over last low ridgetop and its light, filtered through trees, shines on leaping blade. He is Stubby Pringle, moonstruck maverick of the Triple X, born with ax in hands, with strength of stroke in muscles, weaned on whetstone, fed on cordwood, raised to fell whole forests. He is ten feet tall and ax is enormous in moonlight and chips fly like stormflakes of snow and blade slices through branches thick as his arm, through logs thick as his thigh.
He leans ax against a stump and he spreads arms wide and he scoops up whole cords at a time and strides to door and kicks it open …
Both corners of front room by fireplace are piled full now, floor to ceiling, good wood, stout wood, seasoned wood, wood enough for a whole wicked winter week. Chore done and done right, Stubby looks around him. Fire is burning bright and well-fed, working on warmth. Man lies on big old bed along opposite wall, blanket over, eyes closed, face grey-pale, snoring long and slow. Woman fusses with something at old woodstove. Stubby steps to doorway to backroom. He pulls aside hanging cloth. Faint in dimness, inside he sees two low bunks and in one, under an old quilt, a curly-headed small girl and in the other, under other old quilt, a boy who would be waist-high awake and standing. He sees them still and quiet, sleeping sound. “Cute little devils,” he says.
He turns back and the woman is coming toward him, cup of coffee in hand, strong and hot and steaming. Coffee the kind to warm the throat and gizzard of choredoing, hard-chopping cowhand on a cold, cold night. He takes the cup and raises it to his lips. Drains it in two gulps. “Thank you, ma’am,” he says. “That was right kindly of you.” He sets cup on table. “I got to be getting along,” he says. He starts toward outer door.
At this point, Stubby has done a great deed of kindness. In fact, he has done all that could be expected of a fellow, or has he? Wouldn’t it have been enough of a kindness for the beaten man, after the Samaritan “went to him, and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him” (Luk 10:34). It was a truly selfless and sacrificial service the Samaritan rendered, and it would have been considered enough by the beaten man—but it was not enough for the Samaritan. He chose to go “above and beyond” the call of duty. The “Medal of Honor” recipients of Heaven are made up of such men as the Samaritan. And such men as young, rough-raised, Stubby Pringle. There are some who can be content with doing the least that might be considered “enough.” But not enough for Samaritans—nor a great-hearted youth named Stubby!
He stops, hand on door latch. Something is missing in two-room shack. Trust Stubby Pringle to know what. “Where’s your tree?” he says. “Kids got to have a Christmas tree.”
He sees the woman sink down on chair. He hears a sigh come from her. “I ain’t had time to cut one,” she says.
“I reckon not,” says Stubby. “Man’s job anyway,” he says. “I’ll get it for you. Won’t take a minute. Then I got to be going.”
He strides out. He scoops up ax and strides off, upslope some where small pines climb. He stretches tall and his legs lengthen and he towers huge among trees swinging with ten-foot steps. He is Stubby Pringle, born an expert on Christmas trees, nursed on pine needles, weaned on pine cones, raised with an eye for size and shape and symmetry. There. A beauty. Perfect. Grown for this and for nothing else. Ax blade slices keen and swift. Tree topples. He strides back with tree on shoulder. He rips leather whangs from his saddle and lashes two pieces of wood to tree bottom, crosswise, so tree can stand upright again.
Stubby Pringle strides into shack, carrying tree. He sets it up, center of front-room floor, and it stands straight, trim and straight, perky and proud and pointed. “There you are, ma’am,” he says. He moves toward outer door.
He stops in outer doorway. He hears the sigh behind him. “We got no things,” she says. “I was figuring to buy some but sickness took the money.”
Stubby Pringle looks off at last low ridgetop hiding valley and schoolhouse. “Reckon I still got a bit of time,” he says. “They’ll be whooping it mighty late.” He turns back, closing door. He sheds hat and gloves and bandannas and jacket. He moves about checking everything in the sparse front room. He asks for things and woman jumps to get those few of them she has. He tells her what to do and she does. He does plenty himself. With this and with that, magic wonders arrive. He is Stubby Pringle, born to poverty and hard work, weaned on nothing, fed on less, raised to make do with least possible and make the most of that. Pinto beans strung on thread brighten tree in firelight and lantern light like strings of store-bought beads. Strips of one bandanna, cut with shears from sewing-box, bob in bows on branch-ends like gay red flowers. Snippets of fleece from jacket-lining sprinkled over tree glisten like fresh falls of snow. Miracles flow from strong, blunt fingers through bits of old paper-bags and dabs of flour paste into link chains and twisted small streamers and two jaunty little hats and two smart little boats with sails.
“Got to finish it right,” says Stubby Pringle. From strong blunt fingers comes five-pointed star, triple-thickness to make it stiff, twisted bit of old wire to hold it upright. He fastens this to topmost tip of topmost bough. He wraps lone bandanna left around throat and jams battered hat on head and shrugs into now-skimpy-lined jacket. “A right nice little tree,” he says. “All you got to do now is get out what you got for the kids and put it under. I really got to be going.” He starts toward outer door.
He stops in open doorway. He hears the sigh behind him. He knows without looking around the woman has slumped into old rocking chair. “We ain’t got anything for them,” she says. “Only now this tree which I don’t mean it isn’t a fine grand tree. It’s more’n we’d of had ‘cept for you.”