For the past fifteen years I have been teaching Japanese preschoolers who to sing “Old McDonald had a Farm.” What I never expected was that doing this would lead me to an insight about one of Jesus sayings.
In teaching the song I have come to learn that in Japan animals do not say the same things that they do in America. For example, the cow says “mōh” and not “mooo.” Dogs bark out “wan-wan” instead of “bow-wow.” And pigs grunt “bu-bu” instead of oink-oink.”
Well one day I was singing the song and for some reason I started a verse singing, “and on his farm he had a goat…” Before the kids chimed in with their ee i ee i o I found myself going through an inner panic as I realized I could not remember what sounds goats make in English! So I decided to just go ahead and use what they say in Japanese and said “meh-meh.”
As soon as the class ended I got out my smartphone and googled goat “sounds.” What I found was a huge variety answers. Unlike “cock-a-doodle-doo” or “ribit-ribit,” there seems to be some discrepancy as to what goats say when they talk in America. I found some who said “ma-ma” and others “na-na” and the list goes on.
In Japan there is no uncertainty when it comes to goat-speak. The goat says,”meh-meh.” However, here is the interesting thing. Sheep say the same exact thing. In Japan goats and sheep speak the same language. And you do know what? I think the Japanese are right. When you listen to sheep and goats their voices are almost indistinguishable.
As a young child my family raised goats and they always had a special place in my heart. So I have always wondered why it was Jesus was picking on goats in Matthew 25 when he says:
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.” (Mt 25:31-33)
Why are the goats the ones that don’t get to go to heaven? Well I now understand why Jesus picked sheep and goats instead of cats and dogs or pigs and cows or any other coupling of species. It is because goats and sheep share the same language. They both talk the same talk. If you look at the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25 they both address Jesus as Lord. What distinguishes the sheep from the goats is not what comes out of their mouths but the actions they take with they encounter people in need during their daily lives.
The passage of the separating the sheep from the goats makes a fairly strong statement that the only ones who will be allowed into heaven are those who feed the hungry, clothe the naked, shelter the sojourner, care for the sick and visit the imprisoned. According to this passage those who don’t do these things will end up going to the other place. To me, this insight into the shared language of the sheep and goats only makes this point more clear that when it comes to what it means to be a Christian it ain’t about what you say but about the things you do.