Team Sheep vs. Team Goat

Homily for the Solemnity of Christ the King, Year A.

By a show of hands, how many of you want 2020 to be over? Well, I have good news for you: This is the last week of 2020. This Sunday is the Feast of Christ the King, the last Sunday of the liturgical year. Next Sunday is the first Sunday of Advent, and the beginning of a new liturgical year. So, if you’ve been looking for an opportunity to invite someone back to Mass, this is the week to do it: Just ask them, “Do you want 2020 to be over? Then come with me to Mass this weekend.”

As I think back on 2020, I’m reminded of Murphy’s Law: “What can go wrong, will go wrong, and in the worst possible way.” I first learned about Murphy’s Law from my seventh-grade religion teacher, and I think it describes 2020 quite well. It also describes my family’s experience going through tollbooths when I was growing up.

As I’m sure you know by now, I love my parents very much. But I have one thing against them: they’re both from Illinois. And every Christmas we would drive to Illinois to visit my grandparents. This was before the days of the I-Pass. That meant we actually had to slow down and stop at every tollbooth on our way through Chicago. And invariably we’d pick the wrong line of cars to follow through the tollbooth. What at first appeared to be the shortest and fastest line, invariably turned about to be the longest and the slowest. But the moment we decided to change lines, the one we’d left would begin to speed up and empty out. This is Murphy’s law of tollbooths and of lines in general: “The shortest and fastest line will turn out to be the slowest and longest, until the moment you leave it.”

And you may want to keep this law in mind not only when you do your Thanksgiving or Black Friday shopping this week, but when you find yourselves at the final judgment. According to our gospel, there will be two lines at the final judgment: one with sheep, the other with goats. And even if the line with the goats is the shortest, even if it seems to be moving the fastest, you’ll want to stay in the line with the sheep. Because the sheep are going to Wisconsin; the goats are going to Illinois. On that day, the day of judgment, you’ll want to be on team sheep, not on team goat.

Based on our gospel, you may think Jesus has something against goats. Of course, Jesus doesn’t have anything against goats themselves. But He is opposed to what they represent, at least what they represent as compared to sheep. Goats and sheep, as you may know, are very different animals. Overall, goats are more stubborn and independent. They are also less susceptible to predators. Sheep, by comparison, are weaker and in much greater need of protection. They need a shepherd more than goats do. They need a firmer hand and a clearer voice. Goats don’t want a king. Sheep need a king.

Are we on team sheep or team goat? As Americans, we tend to be on team goat. We tend to be stubborn and independent. We don’t want a king. In fact, our country was founded on a rebellion against a king. In our country, “GOAT” has even become an acronym for someone who has attained the pinnacle of professional ability or success. Thus, people will argue over whether Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady is the “GOAT,” the “Greatest of All Time.”

Now there’s nothing wrong with striving for greatness. In fact, it’s wrong not to. We’re all called to strive for greatness. But Christian greatness looks different than worldly greatness. Christian greatness takes the form of service. It takes the form of the cross. Christian greatness comes from obedience, even as Christ’s own human greatness came from His obedience to His heavenly Father. Christ was obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Like a lamb led to the slaughter, he was obedient and opened not his mouth (Cf. Philippians 2:8, Isaiah 53:7).

Christian greatness means belonging to team sheep. It means putting aside our stubbornness and our disordered desire for independence. It means acknowledging our weakness, our tendency to fall into temptation and sin. It means facing the fact that we have a spiritual predator. “Be sober and vigilant,” we hear in Scripture, for “[y]our opponent the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for [someone] to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8). Christian greatness means realizing that we need spiritual protection. It means accepting Christ as the Shepherd and King of our souls.

In our country, civil power is separated between judicial, legislative, and executive branches of government. No one person or body of persons can call for or require our total and complete obedience. But Christ can and does. Christ is King. As perfect God and perfect man, He possesses the fullness of all judicial, legislative, and executive power. His is the Chief Justice, the Chief Lawgiver, and the Chief Executive. All legitimate authority comes from Him. All decisions, all laws, all uses of power are only valid to the extent that they conform to the Righteousness, Truth, and Goodness of Christ the King.

If Christ is to reign as King of our country, then He must reign as King of our souls. Even as our form of government contains judicial, legislative, and executive powers, our souls do as well. The judicial power of our souls is our conscience. Our conscience judges what is right and wrong. If Christ is to be King of our souls, He—who is Righteousness Itself—must be the King of our consciences. He must be the norm of what is right and wrong, not anyone or anything else. The legislative power of our souls is our intellect. Our intellect gives us the ability to know the truth. This truth is meant to be the law by which we govern our lives. If Christ is to be the King of our souls, He—who is Truth Itself—must be the King of our intellects. He must be the measure of what is true, not anyone or anything else. Finally, the executive power of our souls is our will. Our will gives us the ability to freely choose what is good. If Christ is to be the King of our souls, He—who is Goodness Itself—must be the King of our wills. His will, not the will of anyone or anything else, must guide our choices.

If Christ is the King of our consciences, intellects, and wills, He will be King of our souls. And we will belong to team sheep. And that will be good not only for our country, but more importantly for our eternal salvation. If 2021 is to be better than 2020, we need more sheep and fewer goats. “GOAT,” the “Greatest of All Time,” may be the better-known acronym, but “SHEEP” is an acronym as well. If you look up “SHEEP acronym” on Google, you’ll discover that one of the things it stands for is, “Search for the High-Energy Extragalactic Population.” And while this sounds like the search for alien life outside our galaxy, I’d like to think to think that it refers to the search for the kingdom of heaven. For I can think of no higher-energy extragalactic population than the saints in heaven. Holiness is the highest form of energy, and heaven is certainly outside our galaxy. So, don’t be a GOAT; be a SHEEP. Don’t be a part of the search for worldly greatness, be a part of the search for heavenly greatness. May Christ be the Shepherd and King of our souls: now and for all eternity. Amen.