Ever since the description of their separation from the sheep, goats have gotten a bad rap, and perhaps justly so. Goats have a tendency to destroy everything in their path. Tearing up the ground as they eat the grass, they’ll eat anything in front of them: oats, rose bushes, or clothes hanging out to dry. Compared to their sheep counterpart, they’re bossier, more stubborn, and smell much worse while alive and while being cooked. Yet in Exodus, when the Passover instructions are being given, God tells his people that they may take from either the sheep or the goats. Long before the goat got the stamp of demonic or wicked, it was considered clean, even if not ideal.
A local sage at the Dominican House of Studies says that the sheep is an ideal sacrifice, for one, because it’s simply a preferred animal to have around. It’s naturally more docile, has wool that can be collected over and over, and acts as a natural lawn-mower, delicately clipping the grass it eats.
So why would the Lord accept a goat? Perhaps because he knows that circumstances could have been such that the “preferred” wasn’t possible. (Note Joseph and Mary presenting the poor offering of doves in the Temple.) It’s fitting, then, to consider whether we may be more akin to the goat sacrifice at times.
We usually like to look back at what our efforts and personal work ethic have accomplished. We tell St. Paul he was wrong to suggest that God “chose the weak to shame the strong.” No, Paul, just look at how strong I am and how much I’ve done!
Of course, if ten seconds of silence settle on my mind, I’ll realize how I all too often have the tendency to mess things up while acquiring what’s good for myself. I’m more stubborn than I’d like to admit. In a sense, considering what I bring to the table—the life that I present as a sacrifice—then I have to admit that I “smell.” It’s only in the Lord’s goodness and understanding that I am able to give my less-than-preferred, less-than-spotless life into his providential guidance for the kingdom.
The goat doesn’t cease being a goat as it’s led to the altar. If we live our lives as a school of perfection, brought about by charity and grace in gradual steps, we don’t have to be obliterated and remade before God stretches himself to look upon us. Our faults are forgiven time and again by his mercy, our nature is perfected by his grace, and our imperfect baggage can be used by God to show just how merciful, powerful, and good he is.
As the Lord accepted doves and goats in the Old Law, so he accepts our lives as sacrifices now in the New. No matter what we bring, the point is that we bring it all. The Israelites didn’t sacrifice the sheep’s wool, they sacrificed the whole sheep. A death occurred, however, and so it is with us. Provided we die to ourselves, the goats and sheep among us, we surrender ourselves to him who makes use of us as he sees fit.
Thank God for his understanding, then, and his willingness to take what may not be preferred and to use it for his good. If the goat can become a sacrifice, then I can become a saint.
Lord, take this goat.
Image: A Goat