At the Roberts home we recently purchased 4 baby Nigerian Dwarf goats for our backyard. We live out in a rural area in Ohio, and though we are surrounded by farms, we do not have the acreage to do much. My wife, Jamie, wanted goats since seeing videos of baby goats in pajamas on the internet. So, when we found ourselves with the opportunity to start a herd, we jumped all in.
The first thing to know about goats is they are not what most people think. They are highly intelligent. I don’t just mean “for being an animal”, I mean I struggle to keep ahead of their learning curve as they grow. They watch you intently and if they can see how you close a door or open a gate, and they are physically able, well they just learned how to close a door or open a gate!
The second thing to know is they are very affectionate. They not only jump in your lap, they like to cuddle into your neck. This means that within just a few hours, goats go from being farm animals to family in our household. So, this experience was fresh on my mind the first time I was called upon to preach about Matthew 25.
For 15 years of ministry I preached that sheep and goats passage faithfully. Sheep are the good guys that do everything right and those goats are forever damned. Over and over, the passage went by my lectionary cycle and I got it down to the point I could hit it out of the park like an over the plate fastball.
But what can we say when goats stop being a famous illustration and instead, become part of your family? You learn to preach Matthew 25 as a blueprint of how to love instead of who to hate! You realize that is point of the passage anyway.
Jesus adopted all manner of “goats” into his family. He also was not willing to demonize them or cast them aside. Instead, he associated with them, allowed the relationship to transform them, and showed us how to love. In fact, if we really pay attention to Matthew 25, we soon discover that in some ways, we are the goats that Jesus adopted.
We need to remember that when we leave our place of safety in our ministry. That big beautiful pasture where the sheep reside. When we leave the situation of a sanctuary where people decide to come to us and go out to a world where we are well out of our comfort zone. In media ministry, that is often.
If you take this passage literally about who is good and who to demonize, you run into the fact that both are separate species. A goat can’t decide to be a sheep. That change and thus redemption, is not possible. The good news is goats are easy to love when you get to know them. They become “us” as you learn who “they” are. They become less uncomfortable with us as they build a relationship with us. Matthew 25 really is about love. Ironically, if you really don’t like goats and avoid them, you are probably a Matthew 25 goat. It is about love.