Sunday’s message at church was around Matthew 25:31 – 46. It tells about Jesus’ return and the separation of people, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. One of our elders (also named Matthew) spent some time discussing the behavior of sheep vs goats. I couldn’t help my mind wandering to a unique experience our family had while raising a goat.
Goaty Goat (creative name, right?!) was born prematurely, orphaned at birth. His farmer/shepherd initially feared he was dead when he found a cold, nearly blue lump in the corner of the shed, his mother attempting to deliver his twin nearby. Goaty was warmed by the wood stove in my friend’s home and given colostrum after his mother died in childbirth. As an old Newborn Intensive Care nurse, how could I deny the opportunity to nurse this little premie to health? I could not! So….home with me he went a short day or two after his birth.
Goaty was fed, rocked by my three children (yes, ROCKED in their favorite rocking chair!), and loved in our home until the weather was warm enough to move him outside. Initially he wore a dog collar and was tethered loosely to a small shelter made just for him, near our home’s entry door . He never wanted to be alone. He would cry, well really scream, until we came to get him for his bottle feeding. Freed from his goaty collar, he would follow us into the house, through the breezeway and stand at the sink as his bottle was prepared. Goaty eventually transitioned from a location near the house out to the pasture, near the horses. The protests grew louder, although less frequent. Maybe he would realize he was a goat after all!
As spring arrived I spent time in the yard, in the garden and our baby Goaty would SCREAM for my attention. One day I decided to let him out with me and see what happened. I had heard story upon story of the destructive nature of goats. What did our Goaty do? He followed me “at heel” like a puppy but more obedient. If I sat to weed flowers he would curl up in my lap. When I worked in the garden he grazed nearby. As the raspberries began to ripen in the timber I took this guy out to pick and he gently picked one berry at a time from the lowest hanging branches – not eating the leaves and all, but pulling off each individual berry until his little white goaty lips were purple!! Occasionally this furry creature glanced up at me with a look of love and satisfaction for his special time and yummy treat.
Goaty was mostly gentle, although if “egged” on he would gladly get on his two hind legs and play fight with you. Our children could easily feed him, water him. I even clipped his long angoran goat hair while he lay cooperatively at my feet. One summer I was very ill. Goaty gladly lounged at my side IN a relining lawn chair under the shade tree on days that I felt well enough to venture outside.
As time went on Goaty seemed lonely and the farmer friend who blessed us with our furry friend had a new batch of babies. It seemed logical to bring home a goat friend so this guy had some company.
What happened next should not have surprised us, for our Goaty was not raised by a goat mother and was never exposed to a herd. Baby Goat (we just get more creative as time goes on, don’t we!!) was young, but he had nursed and been disciplined by a goat mother, he had run with a goat herd for his short weeks of life. Goaty Goat was taken aback when Baby Goat would chase him, head butt him and run us around the pen. Goaty seemed to sigh with relief when I would let him out of the pen to be with me, san Baby Goat.
We tried to temper the Baby Goat, but as he grew older and larger he grew even more dangerous. His horns curled in a beautiful circle, but he learned to use them to his advantage. Not only were these great head butting tools, but while we were feeding and caring for him he would walk up alongside us, lower his head as if to rub our leg or eat his food and then, with the slightest cock of his head and a swift sweep he would encircle our ankle into the curved horn and pull. Oh, how that hurt. His stubborn nature would ultimately be his demise on numerous occasions. He would often get his head stuck in the fence while seeking grass on the other side, once severing one horn as he pulled his head backward in attempts to free himself.
It wasn’t practical to keep an animal that may ultimately break the leg of one of our family. He was dangerous with no intention to change or adapt. Baby Goat had to go.
As my mind drifted back to Matt, the sermon & his telling of the nature of goats I smiled to myself. Our family knew and loved a goat that was nothing like the animal that most think of when they hear “goat”. We also painfully loved a goat that was every bit and then some the true nature of “goat”.
The parallel felt so obvious to me. People so often use labels and make assumptions. We did not see that helpless orphaned baby as a goat. We saw only a creature without defense, without knowledge, that needed love and nourishment. Given that love and nourishment he developed to exhibit the same, as limited by his naturally born goat-hood. Oh, he strayed into goat behaviors on occasion, make no mistake. It wasn’t always easy loving that animal, but he brought us immense joy and pleasure. He taught us so much about life, love, responsibility and the animal kingdom.
I left Sunday’s service wanting to share with you that we do not have to assume that people are already “goats” or “sheep” to our shepherd. Let’s not label, but let us reach out in love to those that are different than us, are hurting, in need. Let us take their hand and lead them back to the shepherd who will guide them with or without our presence.
And, by the way, don’t judge a sheep by his clothing – that hairy animal is truly a GOAT!!
“All the nations will be gather before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats” Matthew 25:32
“The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me’ ” Matthew 25:40