We have a pet goat called Bono and a sheep called Raphi. We’ve had them since they were babies. They’re pretty cute and on a good day they graze on the hill which creates a peaceful scene for us to gaze upon from our lounge room windows.
At most other times, however, Bono the goat gets up to mischief.
For our goat, the grass is always greener on the other side. Although we have a large piece of land for our animals to graze, it seems Bono has a knack for escaping, literally pushing the boundaries.
He wants more, so in a single bound, Bono is able to leap over gates, push down barriers and escape from harnesses. This is especially difficult when new concrete has been laid, hence to say, our new driveway is now permanently embossed with Bono’s escape hoof tracks!
Bono spends much time looking for trouble. He finds the highest areas and elevates himself to any new platform he finds, even if it includes the roof of my car. His favourite foods are straw gardening hats, fruit trees and new plants.
He likes to find the closest dirt hill to roll down after a bath and is always on the lookout for an open door to the house, once bolting through a piano lesson only to run into the closed glass door at the other end of the room.
Now Raphi the sheep, on the other hand, is lovely. While there is no one outside, Raphi stays close to Bono. Sometimes Bono leads him astray and they escape together. Other times Raphi will sound the alarm when Bono has escaped or if there is a perceived danger.
When Tony or I are in the yard with them, Raphi doesn’t leave our side. He knows who his masters are, he knows our voice. He will follow us wherever we go. He looks out for his friend Bono, and tries to warn him or us when help is needed. His desire is to be close to us, his masters, and he trusts that we will provide what he needs on the land that we have given him.
Bono is always on the lookout for the next bit of trouble he can find. He is stubborn and when he doesn’t want to go somewhere, he will drop his legs and make us carry him or push him the entire way.
Whereas Raphi is happy to follow and seems largely content. He heeds warnings, is cautious, looks out for his friend and, although Bono and Raphi literally butt heads, Raphi the sheep is an ever constant, loyal companion to Bono the goat.
The different nature of these animals is so striking to me that I often think about the bible references to sheep and goats.
Sheep vs. Goat
In Matthew chapter 25, verses 31–46, Jesus tells a parable about sheep and goats. If you’re not familiar with the story, here is a quick rundown. Basically, Jesus talks of judgement day. He explains how God will separate the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
He calls the sheep blessed for they gave food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, cared for strangers, and visited those who were sick and in prison. Jesus tells them that it was as if they had done these things for him. To these sheep, he promises a kingdom prepared for them since the creation of the world.
Now, I know we can’t work our way to heaven, but I guess if we look at this example closely, the kind of heart required to be of this nature would be one of love, compassion, empathy and selflessness.
The goats however, did not look after others. They did not give food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, care for a stranger, or clothes to those who needed it. They did not visit the sick or those in prison.
The kind of heart required to be of this nature would be one of thoughtlessness, stubbornness, self-centredness, self-gain, self-promotion and self-seeking. In fact, their world revolves around ‘self’, subsequently at the cost of others.
The heart of God
I love this passage because what we are seeing here is a mirror of God’s own heart. He loves his creation and knows that we are more than capable of looking after each other. His heart breaks when we don’t because it causes unnecessary pain.
Just as I am pleased with Raphi when I see him looking out for his friend, God is overjoyed when he sees his children serving others and caring for those in need. He doesn’t ask us to do anything he wouldn’t do himself.
He gave the ultimate example; lowering himself to the lowest of circumstances when he came to the earth and sacrificed his life to save us, breaking the bonds of death in his resurrection. He longs to draw us near to him so much that his love knows no bounds.
If we can share that same love with others, then we are sharing his heart and maybe, giving others a glimpse of Jesus too.
‘Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all”’. (Mark chapter 9, verse 35)
(c) Rebecca Moore 2015
First published in Christian Today Australia June 2015