For context and a deeper understanding of the following homily, I would encourage you to read Psalm 104:18, Luke 15:1-7 and Matthew 25:31-34, 41. I gave this homily at Westminster Canterbury of the Blue Ridge on Wednesday, April 11, 2018.
Last week, while taking some time off after Easter, I ran across a true life and death story, a story about two goats who got stuck in a tight spot underneath the Pennsylvania Turn Pike. Apparently, these two goats, one brown and one white, wandered away from their owner’s field, mounted a steel beam that was only 8 inches wide and walked two hundred feet to a place where they could not back up or retrace their steps. One goat, the goat in front, was able to turn around, but the other could not or would not—so there they stood for 18 hours facing each other, 100 ft. above the ground until the Pennsylvania Dept. of Transportation came to rescue them.
One of the goat rescuers commented later, “It was my first goat extraction.”
How did they save these high flying goats? How did they rescue two goats perilously balancing themselves for such an extended period of time? The DOT brought a crane to the location and when the crane’s bucket got close enough, one of the workers reached out to grab the goat who refused to turn around. The other goat, they coaxed into walking the 100 ft. down the narrow rail to safety. By the way, there was no charge for rescuing the owner’s goats. On this day, the DOT was a good neighbor. And, alas, I’m not sure what the bill would have been for saving foolish and brave animals who have nothing better to do than to wander under the Pennsylvania Turn Pike. It’s nice to know that some things in life, some acts of kindness, are still free.
The reason I found this story amazing is that goats usually do not receive such good press. Indeed, in scripture, goats are usually described as blood sacrifices and offerings in the temple or as creatures who carry some kind of blame for the rest of us. That’s where we get the term, “scapegoat.” (see Lev. 16:10) And then, of course, in reading Mathew 25, which animals are separated from the sheep, stand on the left side of God, and get cast into the unending fires? Goats. On the other hand, sheep are always favored by God (and Jesus). Sheep are good and worthy of finding. Jesus never said a word about going out of our way to search for a lost goat or celebrating or throwing a party when we find one. Still, I believe, had he read this newsworthy story, a story about the two goats under the Pennsylvania Turn Pike, Jesus might have changed his mind. Because if such a heroic effort can be made in saving two goats from their misadventures, imagine what God can do for us when we go astray or when we refuse to turn around on an 8 inch beam or when we get stuck and there is no one else to blame but ourselves.
For me, The Parable of the Two Goats Stuck Under a Bridge is about an extraordinary kind of grace and acceptance and forgiveness. It’s about God’s divine mercy for sheep—meek, mild and soft—and for goats—stubborn, misunderstood, and apt to get themselves in a jam.
A renown rabbi once said, “The whole world is a very narrow bridge; the important thing is not to be afraid.” That may be true. But the good news for us, as believers, is that while the world may be a narrow bridge, the choice to cross that bridge is still ours. And if we find the bridge is too narrow or dangerous or we wish we had taken another route, God will not let us fall. God reaches out to grab us and set us on firm ground so we can wander off, only to find another 8 inch wide beam to balance upon. This is good news for people who make mistakes, who find themselves at dead ends, for people like you and me, for sheep, and for goats. Come. Let us celebrate that we once were lost but now are found. Amen.