Sunday, November 23, 2008

Sheep and Goats

Today was the Feast of Christ the King. The Gospel reading was one of my favorite passages of Scripture -- the "Sheep and Goats" passage from Matthew 25 (vv 31ff). You know...

"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."

Then He has words -- words with a much more ominous tone -- for the "goats" on his left. In this passage, we discover that to be a follower of Christ has very practical, everyday implications. It's not just saying, but being. Not just reading the words of Christ, but imitating Him -- to become a "lamb" [small "l"] "of God." Out there in the world, free to frisk and frolic under the watchful eye of the Good Shepherd.

In his homily today our priest (Father Gordon, who was ordained just a few years ago) had an interesting take on the reason shepherds used to "divide" the sheep and goats. During the day, he said, the flock could be out in the fields together, left largely to their own devices. As night fell, however, the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats because the sheep have thick coats, and can be out in the fields at night. The goats, on the other hand, need to be gathered together in a warmer place, because their coats don't protect them from the night air.

"We're a lot the same way, you know?" Father said. "The sheep -- those who imitate the Lamb of God -- have nice, thick coats. It's the goats the Good Shepherd has to separate ... and send to a much warmer place!"

As we enter the holy season of Advent, may we take today's Gospel lesson to heart, and resolve always to imitate our Good Shepherd. To become more like (in the words of Twila Paris) "a lamb of God" ... and less like the border collie who continually tries to keep all those four-footed critters in line!

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