A friend of mine had a dream. He dreamed a parable.
In the dream, he was a goat. His name was Billy.
In the dream, my friend noticed that the goats and the sheep looked pretty much the same and were all herded together. He figured he must be in the Mediterranean or the Middle East. It’s not like American or European livestock, where sheep are fluffy, and round and goats are hairy and scrawny. No, he was somewhere that sheep and goats look quite alike.
In the dream though, Billy could feel that goats are special. Billy looked at the sheep and could tell that they were stupid. Goats, Billy thought, are intelligent. Sheep get lost and have to be found. Goats are natural leaders. Even sheep will follow them.
So, in the dream, Billy was feeling very superior about being a goat. He practiced leading some sheep astray, away from the grass they were looking for. Some of the lambs, separated from the ewes, made a great racket. That led to a confrontation between Billy and one of the rams. Billy’s horns were bigger and more threatening so the ram backed down.
Billy was getting a little bored with the whole herd thing, so he gathered up his family. He was surprised to realize he had a family – but there they were.
Billy took Nanny and their kids and headed up into the mountains. They climbed over large rocks and scampered along steep cliffs until they had gained a lot of altitude. Billy knew that he and his family had never been this high before.
Billy and his family stood at the summit. They looked out and they could see into the future. There, on a cloud, they a large herd of human beings. All the people looked much the same to Billy. Except for one. There was one person in shining white clothing. He sat on a glorious chair before all the others. Angels stirred the air around him.
All of the people who looked very much the same were milling about until the shining one raised his arms. The people became quiet, so quiet that Billy and his family could hear what the shining one was saying. He was separating the people into two different herds, one on his right and one on his left.
As he moved some people to his right he said to them:
Come and live with me forever for when my mother couldn’t care for me you took me in and gave me a bed and boundaries even though I wasn’t a cute little newborn but a surly teenager and I failed to do my chores and ran up your phone bill.
To others he said:
Come into my family’s home because when I was hungry and the only real meals my children got were when they went to school, you stocked the shelves of the food pantry and – with some dignity – I could choose what I wanted and cook for my family.
The shining man said to some:
You will inherit with me because when I was a prisoner to my addictions, you did not turn your back on me, you kept speaking to me, expecting more of me, providing me with therapy, company, and medications even when it looked like I would never be free.
As he sorted out the people he said to some others:
Come and live with all my brothers and sisters, because when I was sick and in the hospital and in the nursing home and in hospice you came and visited me, even though you were uncomfortable and didn’t know what to say and sometimes I was angry and threw things and in the end I could only let you hold my hand.
The people gathered on the right looked into the face of the glorious one and admitted:
We never saw you.
I know you didn’t see me. But each of those people – who seemed so unimportant to others – are part of my family and important to me.
Then he turned to the people who were left. To Billy, this group looked just the same as the first group, except now they looked very sad.
As angel wings thrummed around him, the shining one said those on his left:
When I was hungry and homeless and help for my family you said you were worried that your place of worship would get banged up and dirty, so you would not participate in Family Promise and we spent another three months living in our car.
When I was thirsty, because the water in my taps was poison, you said I should move to a better location, even though I lived where I could purchase a home, after you had redlined the city, to segregate people like me.
When I was vulnerable and at risk and felt naked before people with more resources, you said I should pull myself up by my bootstraps, get a second job and learn how to budget – even though I still couldn’t pay rent for a rundown one-bedroom place.
When I made a mistake, the same mistake you have made, you told me to pay a fine, and when I couldn’t pay it, you added to my debt, and when I couldn’t pay my debt, you put in me prison and people made a profit out of my imprisonment and if you ever thought of me at all you said, “People should obey the laws and this wouldn’t happen to them.”
The shining one looked over all of the people on his left and said:
You did not care for me when I needed you.
The people gathered on his left looked right into the face of the glorious one and admitted:
We never saw you. If we had known it was you, we would have done something.
The shining one said:
You let others live in hellish circumstances and now you will bear eternal consequences. You turned away my family so there is no place for you in my family’s house. Those who lived with the values of my family were always living a righteous life. A righteous, caring, compassionate life is eternal.
Just then, clouds blew up the mountain and blocked Billy’s view. He and the family stood there looking into the distance for a while. Even the kids were quiet.
Then Nanny said, “If I were a human being, I would pretend to see that shining one in everyone. I’d help people like I was helping him. That way, I’d end up getting to go with the shining man into his father’s home.”
But Billy’s oldest kid spoke up. She bleated: “No. No, I don’t think they can plan it like that. I think some of those people were just happy when they were helping others and that makes them happy forever.” And then she bounded away before either Nanny or Billy could say another word.
Billy followed his family down the mountain, lagging behind. He was still a goat, but he was thinking human thoughts – the way you can in a dream. He was thinking about what he had seen and what his goat family had said.
He didn’t notice that he had fallen far behind everyone else until he heard a bleating. Billy stopped and looked to where the noise was coming from. He could see down below that there was a goat – no, a sheep – caught in a thicket.
It was a ram, all tangled up in vines and brambles. Billy remembered how superior he had felt to all the sheep and how sheep were always getting themselves into predicaments they couldn’t get themselves out of. Then he thought about how those people in the future all looked the same and how it could be hard to tell sheep and goats apart.
The ram bleated again and Billy went down to him in the ravine and used his strong horns tear away at the thicket.
When the ram was free and got his footing, he looked right into Billy’s face, and then the two of them made their way back down the mountain together.
When they made it back to the herd, Billy looked around. He felt a kind of joy to see everyone together. The sheep and the goats all looking the same.
Billy the goat was suddenly very tired. He laid down, closed his eyes and thought about all he had seen and heard. As he nodded off, he felt a lovely light in his tired, torn up body. It was as if he was filled with the light of the shining one, seated on that glorious chair.
Then my friend heard a voice child calling him. And it wasn’t calling him Billy. He woke as his child climbed up on the bed and looked right into his face. He could still feel the light of his dream and it felt so good. My friend wrapped his arms around his son. He told him:
This is a new day. Today, I am waking up in eternal life.
This sermon is entirely a riff on a sermon by William (aka Billy) Loader, called “The Enlightenment of a Goat”. Murdoch is a professor emeritus of Murdoch University and has written widely on issues of sexuality in the New Testament. He preached to the worshipping community at Bishop’s College, Calcutta, India, in November, 1999, during 4-week stay.