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Sheep and Goat Separation


Though the sheep and goats are genetically close and of the same size, the goats are aggressive against the sheep. If they fight, they will hurt each other’s head and cause injuries. Other reasons for their separation are the spread of diseases, difference in their food, and prevention of mixed mating. Goats need high fencing because they can jump high, and they need shade during summer. Sheep cannot tolerate rain and so need shelter during the rainy season. Because of this, the shepherds would separate them for their safety, especially for the sheep.

Jesus characterizes the sheep and the goats having different natures. The sheep are friendly, obedient, and dependent on the shepherd, whereas the goat is wild. The sheep is more useful for the shepherd because it provides milk, wool, and fatling (Ezek 34:3). They are animals for sacrifice in the Temple, especially their one-year-old male lamb. The followers of Jesus are like the sheep who were tending along with the goats and suffered from the effects of such cohabitation. The shepherd will separate them to be free from such trouble and in peace forever. They no longer need protection because they will be in the safe zone of heaven with no opponent.

Jesus placing the sheep on his right and the goats on his left (Mt 25:33) is based on the difference in the sheep’s and goat’s nature. The sheep symbolize the obedient followers of Jesus. They are gentle and loving animals that respect the guidance of the shepherd. The goats are independent and aggressive. They stand for disobedient people. Jesus used the term sheep for his disciples and wolf for the persecutors of the Church. When Jesus commissioned the twelve, he said: “Behold, I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and simple as doves” (Mt 10:16; Lk 10:3).

In this context, the sheep stands for the righteous people worthy of eternal reward. They became meritorious because they kept the precepts of Jesus and gave witness to him in the world when they were alive. Jesus places them on his right as a symbol of honour for their virtuous life. The goats are symbolic of the wicked and disobedient people (Ezek 34:17). Jesus will summon them also in front of him at the last judgement. However, their place will be on his left, representing dishonour and condemnation.

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