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Sheep and Goats.

By Richard Cannon in All Sorts

the stories of the sheep and the goats tells us that it is not what they look like, but how they behave that is important and differentiates them.

Sheep and goats.

Today’s lectionary readings have a real sheep theme. In Ezekiel 34:11-16 the “Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them”, but then in verses 20-24, “See, I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep… I will judge between one sheep and another.” And in the
Gospel reading, Matthew 25:31-46 we have “When the Son of
Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit
on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before
him, and he will separate the people one from another as a
shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the
sheep on his right and the goats on his left”.
Both of the readings refer to separating similar animals into
two groups, fat sheep from lean sheep, and sheep from goats.
The animals are almost the same but there are certain
differences that can be used to distinguish between them. The
notion of similar sheep reminded me of a news item recently
concerning the death of Sir Ian Wilmut in the United Kingdom.
Sir Ian Wilmut led the research team at the University of
Edinburgh Roslin Institute that cloned ‘Dolly’ the Sheep in
1996. Dolly was ‘created’ by the then novel technique of
nuclear transfer from an adult sheep cell. Normally, animals
are produced by the combination of a sperm and an egg that
develops into an embryo. Dolly was made using three sheep.
An egg cell was taken from one ewe and the nucleus removed.
The nucleus was taken from a mammary cell of a second ewe
and put into the egg cell. This cell was then implanted into a
third ‘surrogate’ ewe which gave birth to Dolly. Dolly was a
clone of the second sheep because it was derived from the
nucleus of the second ewe. Usually half the DNA of an
offspring comes from the male parent and half from the
female. As Dolly’s DNA was derived entirely from the second
ewe they were essentially identical, Dolly was a clone.
This raises some important ethics questions. Is it right for
humans to clone animals? Humans have been cloning plants
for millennia by taking cuttings. Does it make a difference if it
is animals that are cloned? What about the cloning of humans?
A potential alternative to transplanting mature nuclei into
enucleated egg cells is to modify embryos by using a relatively
new technique called ‘CRISPR gene editing’. This technique has
the potential to correct the gene defect in an embryo with an
inherited disorder. Would it be acceptable to use this
technique for couples with such disorders? What if the
technique was used to ‘improve’ humans? Are we assuming
the role of creator, or are we humans just using our God-given
The stories in today’s lectionary readings, however, are not
about identical clones. They are about animals that are
metaphors for people who look similar, but the stories tell us
that it is not what they look like but how they behave, that is
important and differentiates them.
If the thought of a future consisting of clones we cannot tell
apart is disturbing, we can be reassured by another of today’s
lectionary readings which also refers to sheep.
Psalm 100: “Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth.
Worship the LORD with gladness;
come before him with joyful songs.
Know that the LORD is God.
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.”
Richard Cannon