Hallwood Ecumenical Parish
Bethesda, Palace Fields & St. Mark’s, Beechwood
Church of England – Methodist – United Reformed Church
22 November 2020
“Then the king will say to those at his right hand,
‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom of God prepared for you from the foundation of the world.’” [Matthew 25v34]
I always think ‘goats’ get a bad press in the Bible. Whenever sheep and goats are mentioned the sheep are always the ‘goodies’ and goats the ‘baddies’. On the Jewish Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) a goat is selected to have the sins of the people placed upon it and banished into exile in the desert – the origin of ‘scapegoat’.
This ‘downer’ on goats may seem puzzling but probably lies in their behaviour. Anyone who has worked with sheep and goats will tell you that although sheep may sometimes be ‘feisty’ goats are in a league of their own when it comes to inquisitiveness and stubbornness. Sheep will permit themselves to be herded, to be gathered in sheep-folds, and will generally play follow-my-leader. Goats however are definitely individualists, they do their own thing, go their own way, look after their own interests and rarely take any notice of what human beings may have in mind for them.
In Jesus’ talk about ‘judgement’ he makes it clear that the sheep and goats are categorised simply by their behaviour. It was not that the goats actively sinned, but their sin lay in their failure to serve those in need and thereby failed to serve Christ. Those whom the Son of Man blesses are blessed because of their behaviour and specifically the way they treat the weakest and most marginalised in society.
In the Book of Common Prayer, penitents confess they have ‘erred and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep’ and further ‘we have left undone those things which we ought to have done and done those things we ought not to have done’. This is known as the sin of omission – not actively doing what is wrong but failing to do what is right. Jesus makes it clear that failing to do what is right is also a sin. When it comes to caring for those who are hungry, thirsty, naked, a stranger, someone sick or prisoner, ‘just as you did not do it for one of the least of these, you did not do it to me’. The challenge to us, as modern disciples, is to look with fresh eyes at the opportunities which everyday life offers us.
Rev’d Ken Davey