Wednesday, July 28, 2010
THE PARABLE OF THE SHEEP AND THE GOATS
Tom walks past two old men, both slumping on their wheel chairs, staring into space. The familiarity of the place makes him oblivious of those residents languishing in the old run-down centre. He has seen it all, the filth from the bodies and all. Worst were those who died with sores and liquids running down their faces. Sitting down at his office, he gulps down a hotdog, fresh from the oven. Checking his accounts again, he puts on a wide grin. Not bad for this filth factory! He smiles again.
Many years ago, this Home was the pride of the town. To register in, one has to wait for a long time, until everything is stringently checked and in order. Since Mr. Lansing took his business to another country, things began to deteriorate. His late co-worker’s son, Tom Watson runs like a tyrant businessman, careless and completely detached.
Those who are there now have few distant relatives who seldom drop by anymore. They trust the once-popular centre to handle everything, hence, only send in their money.
At Tom sits there about to doze off, a knock on the door jolts him. “Mr. Watson, there is a young man outside who wants to see you. He said something like wanted to be a volunteer,” an old worker opens the door. Tom waves for the old man to leave and ushers the energetic teenager to have a seat. “A volunteer huh? You mean you don’t want to get paid for helping here?” he quickly enquires.
“Yes, Boss! I am here to help, that’s all!” the young man answers politely.
“How can you help and what are the hours? We don’t want half-hearted religious freaks here,” the fat caretaker grunts.
“I will be here in the afternoons. I don’t mind to do anything."
“Very well, then! Can you help out in the kitchen as one worker is sick today?”
Johnny strolls into the kitchen and his eyes widen. It looks more like a garage than a place where health of the old folks are supposed to be taken care of. Vegetables are strewn everywhere, stale and brownish. He opens the old squeaky fridge only to find more almost rotten meat and vegetables. The floor reeks with combined smells of milk and medicine. No wonder he saw the sign just now from the outside, “Do Not Enter”.
Few small drops of tears fall from his eyes as he helps to clean up. “Hey, who are you?” a rugged man roars from behind him.
“I am a volunteer here,” Johnny quickly wipes his face.
“Oh, just don’t get too neat here. We may not know where to find things,” the cook speaks with a sarcastic tone.
Hearing laughter from the corridors which is rare, Tom takes a u turn. He peeks to see the teenager having a lively conversation with Uncle Joe, a long time resident in the Home. Knocking on the wooden frame to get Johnny’s attention, he whistles for him.
“I think you shouldn’t speak to the old people here, especially that old man,” Tom orders.
“Why not?” Johnny protests.
“They are quite sketchy of things here and tend to complain a lot. I don’t want them to discourage you,” the caretaker explains.
“As far as I know, they are fine,” the teenager shoots back. “Uncle Joe did complain a little bit but he has accepted his fate,” he adds with compassion for the tough old man. Resignation is the obvious sign for all these residents, just bidding for their time to go.
“I think I made a mistake to let you help here. Anyway, I still feel drowsy from last night’s football on TV,” Tom clears his throat.
“Please Boss! Let me help,” Johnny pleads.
“No. Please get out of here,” the fat man raises his voice. Few old people stare blankly at him. He lowers his voice but still holds steadfastly his decision.
The teenager cries and marches out of the door. He really desires to change things around here and he feels he can contribute substantially.
Tom puts both of his feet on top of the table and reads the sports page. A knock interrupts his intent gaze. Two burly men in uniform stand in front of him. “Mr. Tom Watson, you are under arrest for abuse and fraud. We need you to follow us to the station for questioning,” one officer speaks with a stony face.
Trembling with fear, he protests. “You guys are crazy. What abuse?” Tom shouts back.
“There are two witnesses who will testify against you,” another officer puts it calmly.
“Who dares to do that, I’ll sue him!” the fat man yells on top of his voice.
“First, Uncle Joe, who have had enough of your antics at this Centre. And he… is my uncle,” the cop speaks angrily. “I didn’t know until someone reported you. He is the second person, Johnny Lansing, the youngest son of Mr. Lansing, the original owner of the Home.”
“You have no proofs,” Tom Watson grunts.
“These photographs from Johnny’s camera say it all,” the cop retorts, holds some clear shots from the Home. “How could you? You have carried away by your own laziness and greed. The whole reputation of the Home which Mr. Lansing and your dad built has been ruined,” he blurts.
As he is led out, a loud cheer can be heard from the residents. Tom sees his workers all already in the patrol cars. Before he enters into one, his eyes lock on the teenager’s. Johnny stands there, feeling a little uncomfortable. Next to him, his father, Mr. Lansing nods sadly at the handcuffed man. He remembers how he used to love him when he was little.
The parable of the Sheep and the Goats is only found in Matthew 25:31-46 and the last one in this Gospel.
Sheep and goats are quite similar in their looks but characteristically different in their behaviour. Goats are natural browsers and agile, they are actually quite independent. Sheep are more grazers, graze close to the soil surface whereas goats like to eat top of plants. One significant difference is that sheep have a stronger flocking instinct and become very agitated if they are separated from the rest of the flock.
When Jesus presents these domestic animals in the story, everyone knows what he is talking about. The Israelites have been using these animals for sacrifice and food for centuries! The goats are independent lots who browse everywhere for food, “touch and go” animals. These represent a part of humanity who is selfish, restless and thinks he’s okay without God. These groups of people listen to Jesus’ words but those teachings often fall on unfertile hearts. They care more for things than relationships.
Sheep eat tender grasses and they do it slowly, making sure everything is gobbled up before advancing. Sheep fear being lost. They desire a loving shepherd to guide them. These people in Jesus’ days are absorbing the words of God like a sponge. They feel good when they hear of a God who takes care of them and will never leave them. If nurture properly, these followers will never turn away from the Shepherd. As their relationship with the Shepherd strengthens, good works naturally flow out of them. They are warm and gentle people and desires relationships more than anything.
As Jesus ends with this final parable, he speaks about His kingship on earth where the kingdom of God would culminate. There will be a final judgment. They will be a separation of sheep and goats. The sheep invariably did something that they did not even realise (Matthew 25:37-40). That automatic natural flow of good deeds is borne out of a steady and close relationship with the Shepherd Jesus! Social gospel is not Jesus' intention here but He emphasises more of obedient servants whose adaptability and willingness speak volumes of their readiness to follow God.
Goats on the other hand, do not care at all. They live like there is no judgment and no repercussions for deeds left undone, needs left unmet when they were capable to fulfil. Eternal punishment reserve for these people is not because they did not do something, rather they refused to do and obey.
For those warm and gentle sheep who follow the Shepherd, the crowned King of all kings has this to say, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world” (Matthew 25:34).
Note: The Scriptures are clear that only those who genuinely believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God have eternal life (John 3:16, 5:24; Acts 2:21, 4:12)
Next: Parable of the Growing Seed