Patricia Hofer

Separating the “sheep from the goats”

One of Jesus’ more picturesque analogies is that people of the world will be separated, “one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.” A little research on goats and sheep makes this a more universal and truly helpful comparison. Goats are pushy and competitive from birth, even when domesticated. Besides being assertive and confrontational, they are independent and can climb over and under fences. Sheep, by contrast, have gotten more and more defenseless as they have been domesticated, with less agility. Because their safety comes from flocking together, they don’t like to be alone. And they are taught to follow from birth. …
The problem for Christians, and all of humanity, is that we tend to appreciate the goat more than the sheep! Which is probably why our Christian believing gets off track so often. One need only look at our Lord’s beatitudes to recognize the challenges we face (Matt. 5:1-10). Being meek gets us walked on. In fact, the English synonym for meek is sheepish. Being pure of heart causes others to look at us dismissively and uncomfortably. Poverty of spirit and mercy get taken advantage of. And it isn’t often that our attempts at peace making are appreciated. That Jesus commended these behaviors shows clearly, at least to me, that the Master was teaching us about a world other than the natural, goatish one that we live in. …
And, when you look within them, the doctrines and traditions of Christianity are constantly drawing us to that other world as well. In Orthodoxy, G. K. Chesterton wrote, he had been “blundering about” since birth trying to find a connection between these two very different things: “the world and the Christian tradition.” And then he realized that a Christian’s hope and “optimism is based on the fact that we do not fit in to the world.” The doctrinal tradition of Christianity is all about “loving the world” without being “worldly” (59-60). That is what the Lord is inviting us to do! (Living Strong, chapter 19)

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