Readers!

Please enjoy these blogposts, written between 2011 and 2015. Find newer posts soon at my forthcoming blog, Revolutionary Time.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Separating the Sheep from the Goats

This is a goat (pretty good for a girl from the burbs, eh?), one of the many I met last week at the Northwest Washington Fair, held in Lynden--about ten miles north of Bellingham, my hometown.  Really cute, mostly Scandinavian-American 4-H kids show up yearly to this fair with their equally cute horses, ponies, rabbits, guinea pigs, sheep, poultry, cats, dogs, cows, llamas (and alpacas), “swine,” and goats.  The llamas, sheep and goats share a hall—my favorite exhibit.


Many of the goats had given birth in the previous two or three weeks. There were babies galore. The cute kids held the cute babies so we other children could pet them.  The (goat) kids have wiry hair that lies flat (this will be important later, so pay attention), soft ears and sleepy but open eyes. They seemed utterly calm.

This, on the other hand, is a sheep.  Sheep were fewer in number at the fair, and there weren't many lambs, no doubt for sound agricultural or commercial reasons.  This sheep looks an awful lot like a goat, doesn't it (she? he?)?  Or maybe the goats look a lot like this sheep?  Both have eyes on the sides of their hard, bumpy heads.  Some sheep and goats like petting, while others (like the members of one's family) do not. With variations according to breed, they are of a size, and both groups include species domestic and wild. (Think of mountain goats and long-horned sheep.)  For you lovers of collective nouns, both sheep and goats gather in trips, droves, and, of course,  herds.  


Separating the sheep from the goats, shorthand for dividing people into two opposing camps, comes from the Gospel according to Matthew. See the NRSV version below.  The sheep are the good guys, the goats the bad.  If it were easy to make this call (sheep, proceed to the right hand of God; you, goats, other way!), if just any old person, and not the risen Christ, could do it, the metaphor would not work.

I hate this passage, by the way, for its baffling combination of generosity and brutality.  Well, maybe I don't still hate it.  I have to hope these resentments are healing in a way I don't yet sense.

According to the possibly accurate website, Scienceray (http://scienceray.com/biology/zoology/goats-and-sheep-the-basics/), not even body hair helps us tell sheep from goats: "Not all sheep have wool, and not all goats have short smooth hair." Yikes!

Some reliable differences do exist, thank whomever. A few are behavioral: male goats "rear up on their hind legs and come down" before they butt heads (really, really cute when the goats in question are only a few weeks old); whereas young male sheep just back up and run at each other.  Goats are browsers like deer while sheep like to eat grass off the ground. Mother goats (nannies) wander away from their kids to feed; mother sheep (ewes) keep their lambs close.  Here's what seems to be the most reliable trait: "goats have solid upper lips; in sheep the upper lip is divided."

The sheep at the fair were okay.  I liked them fine.  What's to object to in sheep?  But the goats, wow!  I loved the goats.  What does that say about me?



Oops, this is Alice, our dog.  All photos by Warren Miller.


The Judgment of the Nations (Matthew 25: 31-46)

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that 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 something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

Then he will say to those at his left hand, “You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.” Then they also will answer, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?” Then he will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” Then he will say to those at his left hand, “You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.” Then they also will answer, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?”Then he will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.