This week’s RCL readings are pretty agrarian, aren’t they? There’s lots of talk of sheep, goats, and shepherds, which leaves me at a bit of a disadvantage. I’m a total city slicker. I don’t know any shepherds personally.The only time I’ve ever even seen a goat is at a petting zoo. And I’m a vegetarian, so both lamb and goat are off my menu. I am currently wearing a wool shawl that I knitted last year — does that count for something?
At any rate, here’s what little I know about sheep and goats: they’re not the same animal. Total epiphany, right? They look similar and they even make similar noises — bleating, if you will. Perhaps from the vantage point of an average-size human, it wouldn’t be easy to distinguish between the two if they were mixed up in a large group. And yet, our shepherd in Ezekiel, Matthew, and the 100th Psalm knows exactly which species is which and which ones of those are his own, not at all confused by their similarity in appearance or sound. He can even sort them by BMI!
On Reign of Christ (or Christ the King, depending on your tradition) Sunday, I’m struck by the lack of references to civic or monarchical power in the readings. We get allusions to God as prince and the Davidic line in Ezekiel, but Ephesians deals with monarchy the most. The overwhelming connotation in these readings is not the absolute and unquestioned reign of a potentate, but the care of a loving, doting, concerned, protective, and even pursuing shepherd. This is a portrait of a caretaker who would pursue those that are his and redeem them from a destructive oligarchy designed to devour them.
Perhaps the most curious thing in any of these readings is that Matthew suggests the sheep have some say in whether or not they are sheep. And interestingly enough, they live into their sheephood (new word) by ostensibly caring for the shepherd! What a shift in dynamics! I suppose there is an inherent partnership between farmers and the animals in their care — the farmer cares for the animals and in turn gets milk, wool, or even meat from them. But this partnership in Matthew 25:31-46 is different. The acting shepherd doesn’t need the sheep for provision. The way the sheep care for the shepherd is by caring for each other, and in doing so, they proclaim who their shepherd is. Sheephood is a condition of the heart, not a matter of circumstance.
I sense that these texts are inviting us to plant our flag and declare which kingdom/pasture is our home. Where are you going with this text?
In conclusion, I leave you with an adorable video of bleating, back-talking baby goats. Because cuteness.