Sheep and Goats
Like a shepherd, he will separate the sheep from the goats. – Matthew 25:32 (adapted)
I will never understand why Jesus could be simultaneously so inclusive and so exclusive. “Love your neighbor” is his meat and potatoes. Then, as a side dish, he offers us this text that says we will be separated into groups of “sheep” and “goats.”
Here’s a possible interpretation of his side dish:
Some of us remain tribal; others become culturally proficient. The latter believe in their God while appreciating the way other people believe in their Gods. In the United Church of Christ, we call this a leap from “open” to “affirming,” meaning that tolerance is a decent enough emotion while appreciation of diversity is a form of maturity.
Some sheep even make it to the completion of Eric Ericson’s stages in the emotional development of the human:
- trust vs. mistrust
- autonomy vs. shame and doubt
- initiative vs. guilt
- industry vs. inferiority
- identity vs. role confusion
- intimacy vs. isolation
- generativity vs. stagnation
- ego integrity vs. despair
Before we get to cultural proficiency, we need spiritual proficiency. Spiritual preparation is not just the goal of life; it is life. Spiritual proficiency is knowing that God is first and you are magnificently second. God loves you, the universe loves you, the cosmos loves you, and therefore you may love it back.
Generativity is the objective of life. Not just maturity, the capacity to control yourself, to take care of yourself, to defend and be yourself, but also to give yourself away to something larger than yourself. When generativity is achieved, it moves into an integration of our egos and prevents despair. When we get to a generative cultural proficiency, we go out to pasture well.
O God, let us appreciate both sheep and goats and, if we can’t, at least help us know we could. Amen.
Donna Schaper is Pastor at the Orient Congregational Church on the far end of Long Island, New York. Her newest book is Remove the Pews: Spiritual Possibilities for Sacred Spaces, from The Pilgrim Press.