Learning to judge

The flocks were headed back to the fold for the night, straggling though they followed their leader, quite a young lad. It was rather different to the eager way they bounced out in the morning, after having been milked. All of them lop eared, with pronounced noses.

We were sitting out in the cool of evening, catching our breath after a hard day of it. I loved these quiet evenings when it was just us best, though the days were more exciting. But in the evenings, when it was cool, and Jesus was unwinding – that was when he would teach us most, I thought.

‘The sheep and goats know which is which,’ said Jesus lazily, watching them peel off into the right fold. The shepherds separated the lambs out, keeping them apart so they could milk the adults in the mornings. They knew the routine and went with few protests. The adults plodded into their folds. At a distance, it was no always obvious to us which the goats were, which the sheep, but they all knew.

‘There you go,’ said Jesus, the lashes once again sweeping down, ‘the judgement you have always wanted. Sheep and goats divided. It seems they judge themselves.’

We shot each other glances. Jesus had been having a bash at ‘not judging others’ and ‘being forgiving’ that day and we were not as convinced as we might have been. We said little but he knew of course. He always knew.

‘So do we judge ourselves?’ asked Andrew, ‘Because I think the shepherd is really the one who decides.’

‘Um,’ said Jesus, ‘Right, you lot, all jump up. Go on, go on!’

Somewhat reluctantly we heaved ourselves up and stood there looking, well looking sheepish.

‘Right,’ he said, ‘All of you who have ever given a thirsty friend, or a beggar, a cup of water, go to the right. You are, lets see, you are the sheep.’

That was easy, we all straggled off to the right. ‘O.K.,’ said Jesus, ‘All of you who ever at any time passed by a beggar who looked thirsty and did not buy a drink, go to the left. You are goats.’ We eyed each other. Of course we had all, at some time, gone past a beggar and given nothing. We all straggled embarrassed to the left.

‘OK,’ says Jesus, ‘Now let us try with the sick. Who has gone to help a sick friend? Who has avoided helping.’ He kept us at it for ages, straggling right, straggling left. Remarkable, Judas once made it as simply a good sheep. He had had friends banged up on suspicion of insurrection, and never failed to visit despite the risk to himself. Every other category we always found ourselves both sheep and goats.

In the end he let us sink down and rest. By now the flocks were settling down for the night safe in pens.

‘People are not quite so easily categorised,’ said Jesus, ‘I do believe in judgement, but you have to learn to judge yourselves. Really, what matters is not simply getting it right (well done Judas, by the way! The only one to be just a sheep in any category).’ Judas gave an ironic little bow. ‘No, what matters is – learning what matters. Seeing clearly what needs to be done, and trying to do it. Keeping your priorities. Because, really sheep and goats are very alike. But what to do, how to live, that is where the difference is.’

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