From the Catholic Liturgy for Christ the King Sunday, Nov. 26, 2017. Matthew 25:31-46. Topic: Are You a Sheep or a Goat?
Today’s gospel is probably one of the best known and most often quoted passages from the teachings of Jesus for a couple of reasons. First, it gives us the most black and white, plain and simple teaching on salvation that we can find: Jesus tells us quite clearly - if you serve the poor you will go to Heaven; if you refuse to relieve their suffering, then you will go to Hell. The second reason for its widespread popularity is that has given rise to, and continues to inspire, some awesome charitable groups in the church, such as Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity, Dorothy Day’s Catholic Worker Hospitality Houses, and the worldwide Society of St. Vincent de Paul.
But the downside to its popularity is the danger of familiarity, that is, that we run the risk of taking it for granted something because we always hear it and think we know so well. At least that’s been true for me. So, when I began pondering this gospel for today’s liturgy, I asked the Holy Spirit to slow me down and allow me to hear it as if for the first time. To show me something I had not noticed in this passage before. And true to his mission, He slapped me upside the head and heard my prayer. He gave me two words: Sheep and Goats.
Sheep and Goats, huh? And then it dawned on me that when Jesus teaches us, he does so not just with words and actions, but also by the symbols he chooses to use. I learned that sheep are docile, obedient and community-oriented. They stay together as a flock following the shepherd’s voice and trotting along in his footsteps. Whereas, goats are stubborn, independent and trouble-makers. They have to be carefully watched or they will destroy things in their environment. They don’t follow the goatherd but make him follow them.
You could sum up the difference between the two by saying that: Goats want to live life on their own terms. No one to tell them what to do! If they see something they want it takes all of the goatherd’s efforts to haul them in and move them away. They look out for themselves and their interests are #1. Sheep on the other hand want to live life on their shepherd’s terms. They trust the shepherd and heed his voice. They do not question his command but know that he is the one who protects, feeds and cares for them.
So, it seems to me that through today’s parable Jesus is telling each one of us to honestly ask ourselves: am I a sheep or a goat? I am sure that deep down, if you are like me, you will most likely admit that you are a bit of both. I know for darn sure that I have some goat in me that likes to kick up its back legs every now and then and cause a bit of a ruckus!
But the good news from Jesus is that, unlike real life biology, if we have some goat in us, it does not have to remain there. We can change and our Shepherd has given us a way to become 100% sheep is we are willing to take it. All that’s required is that we remain part of the flock and do as his voice tells us, following him every day, the best we can, in humble loving obedience.
And we can learn to hear His voice in Scripture, especially the Gospels, which should become the daily bread for our souls. We need to speak to the Shepherd from the heart and learn to recognize his voice speaking back to us. We need to ask for the grace to know ourselves honestly and to make choices to live life as sheep and not goats, so that we will hear our King say to us when our time here is over: “Come, you who are blessed by my Father and enter the Kingdom prepared for you.”