Although goats and sheep may look somewhat similar there are some pretty stark differences between the two species; they have distinct and separate traits. Goats are often pushy and can cause undercurrents and dissension as turmoil and agitation are part of their nature. The goat has a dominating and controlling temperament, rather than a passive and submissive one. Goats tend to be more self-sufficient than sheep, choosing to browse rather than graze in the pasture. They can be loners, not tending to “Community.” A goat’s natural curiosity and independence means they can tend to get into more trouble than sheep (because sheep are, yes, sheepish).
Sheep have a very strong flocking instinct and they become very agitated when separated from their flock and their shepherd. Lately I have heard the term “sheeple” used as a derogatory phrase applied to persons who “follow” instead of using “independent thinking.” The idea that what a community may call us to and that we follow “passively,” is somehow “bad.” This is an “American” ideal: “following” is somehow weak; you are an unthinking “cog” in a machine. But there is a reason that Jesus uses these animals as metaphors for those who follow His Gospel and those who don’t. And although there are similarities between sheep and goats, the differences are so great that Jesus said the goats would not inherit the Kingdom of God. While the sheep are considered God’s children, the goats are not; and though sheep and goats can remain in the same fold, when Jesus returns He will separate the sheep from the goats. The sheep will be on God’s right side (the good side), the goats on his left.
We humans (Americans and Christians) easily forget that in reality we are not really independent—we rely on God for all things. Ezekiel today talks about how God shepherds and tends us—His flock. When we are lost, He seeks us out. We are fed and pastured, healed and rescued by Him. This is a wonderful image of love for us by God. God will care for us, shepherding us rightly, so why do we resist?
I believe that we resist because we are confused in our culture into believing that any dependence is weakness. We forget that we are “interdependent” and that our choices have an effect on all of us. We forget that we have social constructs we do abide by—contracts spoken and unspoken—that should guide us all in our behavior toward God and each other, toward creation and stewardship. Deciding to follow social constructs is not a weakness; it is a choice for Gospel living, for caring for the “other.” “The last shall be first…” scripture says; and we are called to serve and to give. This pandemic has highlighted the idea that we are called to be at peace with all the inconveniences that are aimed at protecting the vulnerable and marginalized. In the Gospel today Jesus links the nature of these two animals to our behaviors: those who are concerned with Community and the state of its members are called sheep—the others who forget their Christian obligations and act in selfishness and greed are the goats. If sharing and caring makes me a “sheeple” I am good with that.
As we end the liturgical year today and begin a new year we are also getting ready to celebrate Thanksgiving Day—an opportune juxtaposition of sacred and “secular” celebrations! If you think about it, Thanksgiving is not just a holiday but is a holy way of life. Thanksgiving in all and everything may protect us from greed and selfishness, may tenderize our hard hearts and renew our minds in Christ. A grateful heart understands that the source of our spiritual and emotional riches depends on God—and that is not weakness. I am grateful that this virus has shined a light on our “goatness.” It has given us the opportunity to be more understanding and compassionate, to evince the outpouring of Christ’s love and generosity to all others in our Communities (no exceptions!). We need to open our eyes to the generosity of all God’s gifts and blessings for us—which we are called as His children to share. So, how about you? Do you baa or bleat? It’s your choice…
Keep singing in your hearts!
Just a Note: We need to see with God’s eyes in this world—so here is a hymn we have often sung together at St. Aidan.
Be Thou My Vision: https://youtu.be/Rq9Yh17Jn3I