A recent trip to a petting zoo reminded me why I do not have roosters or donkeys. Any animal that is louder than my children has to stay at the zoo. But that day was really an education about goats. We were the only people there that day, so the owner warned us when we entered that a goat named Charlie had escaped from his pen and was wandering around freely. Great. Every mother’s dream.
When I think of a goat, I picture an ornery troublemaker who eats anything in sight, including laundry. Kind of like a toddler, but with horns. We walked around the perimeter with one eye on the animals and the other on the lookout for Charlie. I could sense that our kids were nervous, especially because I’m so perceptive reading clues such as, “Mommy, do goats eat people?”
In the Norwegian tale Three Billy Goats Gruff, the goats must cross a river to get to the lush, sweet grass. To do so, they must first cross a bridge, under which lives a mean, ugly troll. As opposed to a nice, pretty troll, I guess. Nobody was allowed to cross the bridge without the troll’s permission, and he always ate everyone anyway. ( I believe this is why even to this day we have tolls, a variation of trolls, in order to cross bridges. And the fact that these tolls cost us an arm and a leg is symbolic of us getting “eaten” as we try to cross.)
The first two goats in this story trick the troll into waiting for the next fatter goat to come. Just like the typical restaurant patron, the troll does not want all bones and no meat, so he agrees. Keep in mind that the troll is not going to get two side dishes, so he wants his entrée to be satisfying. When the third goat arrives, he lowers his horns and butts the ugly troll, sending him flailing into the rushing river below, where he becomes fish food.
Many people have a hard time figuring out the moral of that story. On the surface it seems that when you go to a steak house, you should pass on the 3 oz. and 9 oz. meat, and just wait for the 12 oz. While true, this is only the cursory lesson. The lesson I was remembering at the petting zoo was that goats have horns and they’re not afraid to use them.
Along came Charlie, and to my surprise the kids loved him. But boy, was he stubborn. A stereotypical goat. The kids wanted Charlie to follow us everywhere, but he was too independent. He jumped up on a fence and tried to eat a tree stump for lunch, and I’m fairly certain he would have eaten my camera if offered. No wonder Jesus used a goats and sheep analogy.
Jesus told his disciples that when he returns he will separate the people as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. The sheep will be his chosen ones on his right, but the doomed ones will be the goats on his left. Needless to say, we want to be his sheep. The goats may think they are special with their intimidating horns and bullying ways, but in the end they are the ones who get butted out of the way.
Sheep stray but are not so stubborn, and they need protection from a shepherd. Sheep know their master well, and they follow him when called. Goats are extremely stubborn and have a mind of their own. They are not followers. Jesus often told people to leave all behind and follow him, so he needs sheep, not goats. His desire is for us to be loving other people, not “butting” them. And he sure doesn’t want us walking the fence and venturing into trouble.
We enjoyed spending the day with the animals and learning more about farm life. But the greatest lesson I learned that day was the Parable of a Goat Named Charlie.