The Difference Between Sheep and Goats

Scripture (Matthew 25:31-46)

Jesus said to his disciples:
"When the Son of Man comes in his glory,
and all the angels with him,
he will sit upon his glorious throne,
and all the nations will be assembled before him.
And he will separate them one from another,
as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.
He will place 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.
Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.
For I was hungry and you gave me food,
I was thirsty and you gave me drink,
a stranger and you welcomed me,
naked and you clothed me,
ill and you cared for me,
in prison and you visited me.'
Then the righteous will answer him and say,
'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you,
or thirsty and give you drink?
When did we see you a stranger and welcome you,
or naked and clothe you?
When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?'
And the king will say to them in reply,
'Amen, I say to you, whatever you did
for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.'

Reflection

I am slightly embarrassed to admit that I just had to Google the difference between sheep and goats. I did not grow up on a farm or have any real interactions with either sheep or goats, other than the occasional petting zoo. When I Googled “What is the difference between sheep and goats?” the internet told me that sheep have 54 chromosomes and goats have 60 chromosomes. That was not very helpful, so I kept reading. The reason I set out on this quest for knowledge was because in today’s reading, the Gospel of Matthew talks of separating sheep and goats. I think that, even if you are like me and do not know much about sheep and goats, this reading still has a great deal to teach us this Lent.

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This reading has always caught my attention because Jesus tells us that the Son of Man will separate the sheep from the goats. Genesis taught me snakes were bad, but I never understood why it was that the goats were bad. I think that is why it is important that sheep and goats are similar. We hear in this reading that the mark of a disciple is how we treat others. The sheep and goats are not separated based on what they knew or how involved they were; rather, they were separated based on how they did or did not care for the hungry, the thirsty, the sick, and the stranger. I think many of us would call ourselves good people, but we sometimes cross the street when we see a homeless person on one side. Or perhaps we judge strangers and make assumptions about them before we get to know them. We think we are sheep, but sometimes we act more like the goats. It is really easy to do. This reading challenges us to evaluate how we are living out the command Jesus gave us to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39).

Another important message from this Gospel is that our God is a God of surprises. When Jesus tells of the judgment and the Son of Man separating the sheep and goats, the righteous and the accursed both ask, “Lord, when did we see you…”. Both groups seem surprised that this is how they are to be separated. Humans judge in very different ways than God judges. Jesus is stressing the importance of caring for our neighbors. This Lent, when we consider what we are doing in terms of prayer and almsgiving, do we consider how we can care for the hungry, the thirsty, those in prison, the sick, or the stranger?

Lent is a time to return to God. This reading is a wonderful reminder and challenge of how we are called to care for our brothers and sisters. Let us not be afraid to go to the “least ones” with unconditional love, without judgement or expectation and know that, when we do, we are serving Christ.

Questions

  • How does your prayer, fasting, and almsgiving serve the “least ones” that Jesus mentions in this reading?
  • What is something you can do to be more like the sheep?

Action

  • Find a way to get involved in your community and serve others at an organization you care about.
  • Take some time to consider who have been sheep in your life. Reach out to them and say thank you.

Prayer

Lord, teach me to be generous.
Teach me to serve you as you deserve.
To give and not to count the cost.
To fight and not to heed the wounds.
To toil and not to seek for rest.
To labor and not to ask for reward.
Save that of knowing that I am doing your will.

Amen.

Author

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Taylor Baar is the Director of Youth and Young Adult Ministry at Our Lady of Lourdes in Milwaukee.  He is a graduate of Marquette University and spent one year in mission with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps.