The goats do not go off to hell because they are goats
or because they are inferior to sheep
or because Jesus liked sheep better than goats.
The goats do not go off to hell at all: nations do, it says,
peoples who are stingy with water and food
and keep themselves warm and let others freeze
and visit no one in prison because people in prison
are horrible and do not deserve any visits.
The goats do not go off to hell: peoples who get
huffy and hurt and defiant and finally menacing
when someone says, what about poor people?—
they are the ones the implacable angels drive into
fire on the awesome Day when the Judge calls
everyone together for the sifting of wheat and tares.
It could just as well be the fat sheep
who do not make Christ’s cut of kindness
and the wiry goats who get the happy welcome home.
As adorable as most lambs are and as bad-tempered
as some goats can be, being sheep or goats
has nothing to do with why Jesus is telling the story
and what he means. They are stand–ins:
the goats do not go off to hell because they are goats,
but because they are nations that have not been
as human as humans should be.