THEME: “Jesus said, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did for one of these least ones, you did for me.’” (Matthew 25:40)

By: Fr. Robert deLeon, CSC

Matthew 25:31-46

It was 1984, St. Joseph Parish, South Bend, IN, the Feast of Christ the King. I’d been ordained a deacon two months previous and was just finding myself as a preacher. Wanting to illustrate dramatically for the congregation the imagined reality of the fearsome day of judgement, I’d arranged for a beloved elderly couple to assist me with the homily.
Jim and Marilyn, life-long parishioners and now in their mid-eighties, thrilled at the idea I’d proposed. Though each Sunday they already served as lector or Eucharistic Minister, this day would provide an opportunity for a bit of impromptu acting. Agreeing instantly to the invitation, I filled them in on the script, inviting them to be as dramatic as possible, leaving them with the reminder, “Now be sure you’re sitting on the right side of the aisle. It’s crucial for this thing to work.”

As 9:30 Mass was about to begin that Sunday morning, I looked out into the congregation and spied Jim and Marilyn seated on the right side of the aisle, just where they needed to be. When they caught me looking their way, Jim gave me a conspiratorial “thumbs up” as Marilyn winked. The stage was set!

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Following the reading of the gospel, the drama began as my wordless cold gaze swept the congregation. The silence grew increasingly uncomfortable. Finally my narrowing gaze settled on the accomplice couple. With feigned anger I addressed the entire congregation, “Complying with the words of the gospel we just heard, would the sheep kindly move to the right side of the church and the goats to the left?” I waited; of course, no one moved. I continued sharply, “Well now, surely some of you are occupying the wrong side of the aisle if we apply gospel standards honestly: sheep on the right, goats on the left!” I waited again; still no movement. Glaring at my willing accomplices, I tossed them their cue. “Jim, Marilyn, please move to left side of the church.” Audible gasps from the congregation!

Let me conclude quickly. Jim and Marilyn played their roles with such creative gusto that I never did get to the point of the homily. Indeed, I’d hoped to impress upon the congregation that human judgment is as unlike God’s judgment as was my labeling Jim and Marilyn goats instead of sheep. But I was completely upstaged when Marilyn broke into fake hysterical sobs at being labeled a goat, and in trying to comfort her as they moved across the church aisle from right to left, Jim threw himself to the floor and grabbed at his chest, suggesting the onset of a massive coronary. When a well-intentioned nurse in the congregation rushed to his side to offer assistance, Jim shooed her away with a whisper that he was only acting. Such a commotion did Jim and Marilyn create that it seemed wise to end the homily right there.

I apologized to the congregation for preaching gone awry and assured them that Jim and Marilyn were surely not goats in my estimation; they were probably two of the finest sheep I’d ever met. With that they took to center aisle and bowed deeply as applause filled the church. Clearly, these beloved sheep were the stars that Sunday while my performance in the pulpit provided evidence that I was well on my way toward goat-hood for even attempting such a charade.

Though it’s now years since 1984’s Feast of Christ the King, we hear once again of the final judgment when God will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. But I’m no longer even tempted to mimic that great Day of Judgment when God will do the final sorting. Jim and Marilyn have since gone to God, assuredly now sitting at the right hand of the Heavenly Father as contented sheep. Though I’m still earth-bound and have yet to face the final sorting, I’ve gained some insight into myself which, I pray, will assist me in being less a goat, more a sheep.



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