Ezekiel 34:11-12, 15-17; Matthew 25:31-46
If you sit here thinking that you’re all and only sheep, well, I have some bad news. You aren’t! If you sit here thinking you’re all and only goat, well, I have some good news. For you too, you aren’t! Maybe the most challenging are those who may be sitting here today who think they’re all sheep and judge those who you have deemed goat, well, I’d suggest you make some changes quickly, because whether you know it or not, you’re probably more goat than sheep!
We culminate this liturgical year on the Feast of Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, in Matthew’s Gospel with probably one of the most familiar of passages and later depicted in one of the most prominent scenes in the Sistine Chapel with Michelangelo’s, Last Judgment. Yet, possibly one of the worst things we can do to ourselves is fear what this passage provides, mindful that the Gospel is always good news. That’s not to say that things don’t need to change or conversion isn’t a necessity in our lives, but did Jesus truly mean to scare the life out of people with such stories? If anything, I myself find some comfort in it that he can separate and still call to wholeness at the same time and in my very life. The moment we can accept that we are sheep and goat it frees us up to accept ourselves and how to truly live God’s will one must recognize and accept over and over again that it is God that works through and within me to accomplish His will.
I find comfort in the first reading from Ezekiel today in the all familiar passage of our Lord as Shepherd, as one who gathers what has been scattered. When we allow that aggressive and impulsive goat within us to take control of our lives, we often find ourselves dissatisfied, anxious, and worried about many different things, often most of which we have no control over. Yet, that part of us that stands as metaphor in the goat wants to tell us that we’re in control, that we know better, that we can go our own way and no one can tell us otherwise. But what Jesus tells us is that the goat doesn’t hear quite well. The goat doesn’t recognize the whisper of the shepherd, trying to lead and gather and make one, in the midst of an often disconnected and disengaged world, distraught over what is seen and nowhere near trusting what is unseen, certainly the quiet voice of the shepherd. No, that voice that the goat follows isn’t that of the shepherd, but his own or one that has followed him throughout his life, often taking the place of God but barely living up to a god. Yet, when we have found comfort and security in that voice, it’s hard to surrender and give up.
I find comfort in knowing that I don’t have to be the judge of sheep and goat, for to God I am but one. Yet, God gives us tools and methods to help us to discern these voices that often control our lives and prevent us from growing more deeper in relationship with the shepherd and myself. They are voices that, from childhood, have been that place of security, but we as sheep and goats, are called to trust a greater voice, one that leads us to places beyond imagination, that leads us to places that are unknown, to places where sheep and goats, like lions and lambs, can come together as one, reconciled and whole.
Yes, we aspire for that oneness in the life to come, but a continuous laying down our lives for others, for the homeless, the tired, the poor, the imprisoned, the sheep that cause us discomfort and to question God and humanity, yes, there, at that point, God invites us to not see the other as goat, as we so often do, someone lesser than myself or simply trying to take advantage of the system. No, to see the Other and the other as Shepherd and sheep in mutual relationship. The more we cast judgment of the other as goat and to see them, somehow, as not worthy of my time or resources, the more we are trusting the voice of the ego, the goat, the one that leads astray. As we end this year and prepare for the season upon us, Advent, we pray that we may discern and trust the voice of the Good Shepherd, leading us to oneness, to reconcile, to wholeness, to a people who are free of judgment and prepared to see as God sees in his sheep and maybe most importantly, to love as God loves His sheep.