Coming Clean on Sheep and Goats


I’ve heard this sermon so many times. I’ve preached this sermon at least once or twice.  I want to call bullshit. Or Sheepshit.

The text is Matthew 25:31–46 and you can click through to read the whole thing, although here are the preces: Jesus says at the Last Judgement God will divide us as a farmer does the sheep from the goats. The sheep will find out that they have often fed, clothed, and cared for Jesus. And they will say in all humility, No… we did not. And the goats will be told that they have never fed, clothed, or cared for Jesus. And they will say in self-justification, But we never had that chance: we would certainly have done so if you had shown up.

And then both will be told the punchline: when you did – or did not do – these things for the poor, the hungry, the homeless then you did – or did not do – these things for Jesus.

Then the sheep get in to heaven and the goats go someplace where heaven is not, and the story ends.

And the sermon we’ve all heard (and I’ve preached as well) goes something like this:

Jesus never asks either the sheep or the goats if they’ve kept any religious rules, if they’ve gone to mass, if they say their prayers, only if they have cared for the poor. Rules don’t matter, so. But care for the poor, now… that matters.

However…. you miss the point if you don’t realize we’re not talking about pigs here.

Sheep and goats are both Kosher. They are both sacrificial animals. They – unlike pigs – follow all the rules.

Both of these animals are goodly, clean things. They are acceptable symbols for the religious folks.

The sheep however, follow through on the spirit as well as the letter of the law.
The goats fail to do so.

This scene from the last judgement takes place after the pigs have been sent away already… It is almost like Jesus saying to all the Good Children…(Realized here that my “Jesus Voice” sounds like Bishop Barron….)  “Oh, one last thing… you went to mass every day, you prayed every day, you never broke a commandment. Good. Good. All important, all needed….”

But, um…

Did you get the point?

You can’t use this parable to say “there are no rules but care for the poor.”

There are no generous pigs here.

But you can say “without a just love exercised to your neighbor, none of this other stuff matters.”

Shabbat Shalom.

Author: Huw Raphael

A Dominican Tertiary living in San Francisco, CA. He is almost 59. He feeds the homeless as a parochial almoner and is studying to be a Roman Catholic Deacon. He is learning modern Israeli Hebrew and enjoys cooking, keto, cats, long urban hikes, and SF Beer Week.

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