Final Judgement – the Sheep and the Goats
Scripture Reading: Matt.25: 31-46
Do you prefer sheep or goats? I have to confess I’m not really a lover of either but if I had to choose then I think I’d prefer sheep, particularly lambs which just look so cute and helpless when they are born. They don’t seem to have much brain though, as they often wander off by themselves and end up caught in dangerous situations (a bit like some of us really!!). However, children seem to love them – I think it might be because of their large fluffy coats! They are also useful for providing our wool.
In contrast, goats don’t have that lovely cuddly look. They look more dangerous because of their horns and have to be more carefully contained – staked out rather than being allowed to roam as freely as the sheep. They are far more independent, adventurous, stubborn, persistent and agile than sheep and if let off their tethers could cause some damage. But they have their uses – they produce goat’s milk!
In today’s parable it seems that Jesus has a preference for sheep. It could almost convince us that God, having created all creatures, doesn’t like goats. They become separated from the sheep and are condemned to eternal punishment, the total opposite to everlasting life. As you see, the outcome for the goats is not good!
So why did Jesus use sheep and goats as symbols in this story?
Adam Clarke says this: “Sheep, which have ever been considered as the emblems of mildness, simplicity, patience and usefulness, represent here the genuine disciples of Christ. Goats, which are naturally quarrelsome, lascivious, and excessively ill-scented, were considered the symbols of riotous, profane and impure men.”
But the lesson of this parable doesn’t really have much to do with actual sheep or goats, whose behaviour is based on instinct. Jesus is using the general differences in their nature to teach an important lesson about the way He sees people. He observes our behaviour and will judge the choices we make.
This parable follows that of the wise and foolish virgins and the parable of the talents which, as we saw yesterday, show the importance of staying close to God, doing His work and always being prepared for His second coming. This parable highlights the need to stay close to Christ, and to grow in self-sacrificing love.
The message to the righteous sheep and to the selfish goats are basically opposites. The same message and task were given to both – to look after others, to show love to all, to reach out in kindness and generosity to the broken and all those in need; Jesus is saying those who have done so are blessed sheep, while those who have not are cursed goats forever tethered to this earth because they are full of selfish ambition and gratification and blind to the needs of others. They don’t serve God as they should.
Service, however, has to be motivated by compassion rather than service done for show. We must strive to treat everyone we meet as if we were seeing Christ Himself. He wants us to give to those who can do nothing for us in return because how can we truly love God, who we have not seen, if we can’t love people who we see around us.
The goats might see someone in need and, although they don’t wish them harm, pass by on the other side. But a righteous sheep will follow the example of Jesus, who, even though He was busy was so moved with compassion for the crowds He fed them both spiritually with His teaching and physically with bread and fish – notice how it wasn’t just good enough to give them bread for their bellies but also essential to tell them about the Kingdom of God.
So, likewise, God’s sheep must follow the example of their compassionate Good Shepherd.
That’s a tall order but if we do what the verses of Matthew 35-36 tell us we will be following the unselfish, loving example of Jesus Christ. It’s how we avoid being a self-serving, stubborn goat.
Will you be a sheep, or goat, today?