This handsome fella was at the zoo we visited when my daughter was not quite 2 years old. This section was the petting zoo, and we were given the “opportunity” to step inside and mingle with the livestock. To this day, I have a tremendous fear of goats. All because of him. The Eater.
The zoo staff gave each person a map of the zoo. Imagine my consternation when The Eater walked boldly towards us. I didn’t like the gleam in his eye, so I snatched my daughter up to hold her away from that beast. He just kept coming and coming. I turned my back. He walked around…and proceeded to snatch the map right out of my hand with his gaping goat-mouth. He. Ate. It. All. That little old map wasn’t enough roughage for him, because the next thing on his menu was my shirt. Yes, that mean old goat started EATING my shirt while I was still in it! I shudder right now just thinking about it.
I think Jesus must have had some dealings with goats like that. Some quality adjectives describing goats might be: Ornery. Stubborn. Capricious. Greedy. Evil. Cranky. Bullying. Cantankerous. Surly. Obnoxious. Bilious. Contentious. Obstinate. Contrary. Those words sometimes describe MY mood!
In Matthew 25, Jesus gives us an idea of what to expect when He returns in His glory.
All the nations will be gathered in his presence, and he will separate the people as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.”
When I came across this passage the other day, I had to wonder: why did Jesus compare sheep and goats specifically? Why not cats and dogs? Or birds and fish? So I did a little internet digging in order to educate myself a little about the nature of sheep and goats. It turns out that they are closely related and are part of the same scientific subfamily Caprinae. It can be difficult to distinguish them apart by their appearance. However, they are worlds apart in their temperament.
Sheep follow leaders. Goats like to go their own way. Scientific research shows that both species are intelligent — but the goat is more prone to trickery. If any part of a fence can be flattened, he escapes. He does not readily follow a leader.
In Jesus’ prophesy, the people who have been his sheep — the ones who feed and clothe the hungry, take care of the poor and the sick, take in the stranger– will inherit the Kingdom which has been prepared since the creation of the world. (v. 34)
Think about it. Jesus fed those who were hungry. He ministered to strangers. He cared for and loved all creation. Those of us who take Him to be our Shepherd and follow his lead in helping others will be counted as sheep.
But the goats? Those who go their own way — the ones who ignore the hungry and live their lives under no one’s authority but their own will and desires — they will be counted as goats.
If I remember correctly, this was the story that convinced me to be a Christ-follower. Perhaps, as a nine-year-old, I did not want to be one of the ones about whom Jesus will say:
Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his demons.”
Self-preservation had something to do with my decision to follow my Lord. Who says goats are smarter than sheep? They are always getting themselves stuck in trees and in high places and need help getting down. They get into and eat things that aren’t good for them. But sheep that follow a shepherd stay safe and secure. They are guarded from those things that prey.
Now, if I can only be meek. Docile. Teachable. Gentle. Compliant. Agreeable. Willing. Nonresistant. Obedient. Cooperative.
Like a sheep.