Sheep Or Goat


Thanksgiving has come and gone. It's the first day of December.  (World AIDS day, in case you didn't know.)  Decorations are going up everywhere (if they aren't already up).  And this Sunday marks the start of the Christian New Year; it will be advent.

Last Sunday, the final Sunday of the "church year," the scripture reading was one of my favorites.  Actually it may be my favorite.  It's a passage I've heard before (many times), but for some reason it resonated with me more fully this year.  It's a passage that has become my new "go to" and one that I'm going to try and focus on more in my life.  It's Matthew 25:31-46.  And just so you don't have to go look it up, here it is (from the New International Version):   “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne.  All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.  He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in,  I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?  When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you?  When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.  For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink,  I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

“Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

I have to admit, it was tempting to leave out the last verse.  I'm not keen on the eternal punishment thing, but...

I love this passage because it very clearly tells us/Christians, what we SHOULD do.  We care for our fellow human beings by caring for them.  We should feed, cloth, nurture and comfort.  And we should do this for WHOEVER NEEDS it.  That's the challenge. This is not a call out for specific people; it is for ALL.  It excludes no one.

It's (relatively) easy to do these things for the people who we know and love.  What about the people we don't?  That is more difficult.  That is more challenging.

I know I TRY to be a sheep. I donate to our local food pantry.  I volunteer at my local thrift shop.  However, I have also passed by homeless individuals on my way to work and NOT done anything even though I had change in my pocket. More specifically, and something that still bothers me/my conscious, one day when I was coming home from work and just a short distance from my house, a young man called out to me.  He was by a pizza parlor and asked for some money for food.  That day I did not have any change or money, told him so and moved on.  However, as I got closer to home, I remembered that in my backpack I DID have my emergency credit card.  I did not go back.  I should have gone back, found him and gone with him into the restaurant, have him order food and paid for it.  I DID NOT do that.  I was a goat.  While I have many excuses in my head for what I did, I still think about it.

In all honestly, I think most of us are part sheep and part goat.  I KNOW I can't always be a sheep.  I'm going to be a jerk sometimes; it's in my nature.  That may be shameful, but it is also true.  What I can TRY to do is be more sheep like.  To remind myself of this passage and act on it.

Will I be condemned for eternal punishment for the times I was goat like?  Or will I be "rewarded" for my "righteous" acts?  Who knows?  In my mind, the "reward" shouldn't really matter.  My behavior; my compassion is what is needed.

As we enter this last month of the calendar year, whether you are Christian or not, I encourage YOU to be the person who feeds the hungry, gives water to the thirsty, offers fellowship to the stranger, provides clothes to those in need and care for those without.  It is not (just) the "Christian" thing to do; it is the HUMAN thing.


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