In Matthew 25:31-46, we find Christ (the Son of Man) on judgment day, separating nations like a shepherd splitting sheep from goats. Christ rewards the sheep because they’d been feeding the hungry, welcoming strangers, clothing the naked, and visiting the sick and imprisoned. Christ explains that when the sheep looked out for the least of God’s children, they were looking out for him. As for the goats, they’re condemned to eternal punishment because they failed to recognize Christ’s presence in the neediest of God’s children.
It’s not easy to come to terms with Matthew 25. Our lips tend to say, “I agree with Jesus, that we should relate to the weakest and neediest the same way we regard Christ himself.” Yet, at the same time, our actions often say the opposite.
Matthew 25 uses sheep and goats to illustrate his parable because they belong to different species. Sheep have fleece and say “baa.” Goats have hair and say “maa.” Sheep like to stick with the rest of the flock, grazing along the ground, eating clover and grass. Goats like to wander away, searching high and low for leaves and twigs, rising on their hind legs to reach them. Sheep loyally follow their master’s voice. Goats need to be driven, and they like strangers, even eating from a stranger’s hand.
Over the years, scientists have worked at crossbreeding goats and sheep. They’ve mingled embryos from each species and produced a creature they call a “geep.”
It seems that many of us are geep-like—a cross between sheep and goats, simple saints and selfish sinners. We struggle with Matthew 25 because, instead of being converted people, we’re confused geeple. We hang with our flock; we stray towards our selfish pursuits. We obey God; we heed the wrong voices. We care about others; we reach over others to get what we want.
Someone might wonder, “What’s really wrong with being a geep? After all, there’s at least some good in them. Isn’t it God’s grace that saves us, not the wonderful ways that we treat others? And didn’t Jesus die for their sins too? Isn’t there room for geepnicks in heaven too?”
Matthew 25 doesn’t deny that we’re saved by grace. It simply affirms that our deeds and relationships matter. Godly deeds aren’t depicted as the price of admission to God’s eternal kingdom. Jesus paid that price. Connections with the poor are simply a means of identification, indicating who’s already in God’s eternal kingdom. Graciousness toward others around us, especially the weak and vulnerable, is a sign of the kingdom, not a precondition for getting into it.
God surely loves goats, sheep and everything in between. Yet, we weren’t created to be geepish people, rather God’s children, serving our Lord wholeheartedly. And Jesus didn’t redeem the world so that we might remain geeps, confused about who we are and who we should follow.
Speaking of geeps, it’s clear that God’s a cross breeder. God’s Son is a cross between the human and the divine. The gospel entwines justice with mercy. On the cross, God’s love intersects with our selfishness. God twists together truth, pardon and compassion. All of this crossbreeding, as we know, is fully revealed on the cross, where the Lamb gave his life as a scapegoat for our sins so that we can be sheep that follow our Shepherd.