Sheep versus goats

I want to be a sheep, but I’m afraid I’ll be judged as a goat. This Sunday’s gospel for the Solemnity of Christ the King is taken from Matthew (25:31-46) and is how Jesus will perform His final act as shepherd at the end of time by separating the sheep from the goats. 

As a spinner and a knitter, I love working with wool. With the many varieties of sheep breeds, there’s a type of wool for almost any need: from the long, lustrous locks for rug making to the super springy and soft fibers for baby clothes and all different types in between. If I was a sheep, I don’t think I could pick which breed I’d be, as there are several that I enjoy working with, at least from a wool perspective. The variety of what we can do with just the fibers of the animals’ coat is incredible. While Jesus did not intend for us to take the passage of being sheep and goats literally, we are called to apply our particular strengths when helping to meet the needs of our community. We are not called to judge another who is in need of help for their worthiness to receive our assistance. Rather we are called to look upon ourselves and our own resources to see how we can provide support. It is our response that will be judged. If we evaluate others as being less worthy, we are actually passing judgement upon ourselves as being superior, and denying the mercy of God. For God’s mercy is meant to be shared upon receipt so that we can continually be a channel of His mercy on earth.

While there are breeds of goats whose fibers can be spun, like cashmere and mohair, goats are more well-known for their behavior. Perhaps they can be referred to as infamous in their ability to eat anything and everything in their path. I think the most frightening aspect of Jesus’ judgement on the goats is that they don’t even realize that they are goats. It’s not that they don’t know about mercy and don’t want to share it with others, but rather they look to the exclusive and narrow definition of who should receive assistance. When you think about it, how can Jesus ever be hungry, thirsty, naked, or somehow in need? Everything in creation is His. Yet Jesus associates Himself with the poor. In the very next chapter, His response to those judging the woman pouring perfume on His feet is, “The poor you will always have with you; but you will not always have me.” (Mt 26:11) Jesus started His life on earth as a poor person by being laid in a manger and ended it by being crucified on a cross like a criminal. Jesus knows what it’s like to be an outcast. When we focus on ourselves and only what we want, taking everything down in our path, we become goats and cease being a channel of God’s mercy.

It’s very easy to be caught up in the frenzy of our society and respond as the goats do. Just hearing on the news how particular household items have been bought in such quantities that the store shelves are empty, can trigger a response to make sure we’re plenty stocked up. Let us be vigilant not only in our current world situation, but also in the future when all our physical needs are met, that there are brothers and sisters in Christ who are less fortunate than ourselves and in need of our aid.   

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