Sheep and Goats in a Pandemic

Sheep and goats in corrals. The Field Museum Library. No know copyright restrictions.

Yesterday my family and I took a bike ride to downtown Chicago. (Under Illinois’s stay-at-home order, biking for outdoor activity is an essential activity.)

It was stunning, in this usually-vibrant city, how empty the streets were. We passed a handful of people out for exercise, air, or to walk their dogs. The buses we passed, which should have been full to overflowing at rush hour, held a driver and one or two other people. The storefront businesses were dark, as billboards and electronic signs at bus stops reminded Chicagoans to stay home to avoid spreading Covid-19.

It occurred to me on that ride how hard it is to be truly Christian during a pandemic like this one. Not hard because our hearts are in the wrong place—I believe that everybody who’s sacrificing to protect the health and lives of their communities is being deeply Christian—but because being truly Christian requires physical communion.

Specifically, I was thinking about Jesus’ parable of the sheep and goats in Matthew 25. He welcomes the sheep to His kingdom and His right hand because

I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:
Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.

And when did the sheep do these things? When they had done them for “the least of these [His] brethren.”

The goats, by contrast, were cast away because they had not fed the hungry, taken in the stranger, clothed the naked, or visited the sick and imprisoned.

Now here’s the problem: to preserve life and health, we literally cannot do many of these things. Prisons and other detention centers have been closed to visitors, as have nursing homes. (My wife recently made cookies for workers and residents at a nearby nursing home, part of a community effort to help them. I dropped the cookies off, but was only allowed through the first set of doors.)

As I shelter in place, I don’t see the stranger, the naked, the hungry or the thirsty. And when I’m out, I purposefully stay at least six feet away, which doesn’t bode well for clothing or feeding them.

That’s not to say we have no way of doing for the least of these, but during these times when we can’t be nearby and can’t call on and comfort and serve in person, we need to be thoughtful and engaged in finding ways to serve our fellow citizens and, by extension, our Lord.

So how have you been able to be a sheep and not a goat in a stay-at-home world?


  1. Our ward has a standing service opportunity serving meals to the homeless at a local soup kitchen; we do this every two months or so. Our turn came up early in April. There were changes made in order to stay as safe as possible during the experience. No one over age 60 was allowed to participate, meals were bagged and set on tables outdoors for pickup, etc. I was still nervous allowing my teenage son to go. This was in the early days of the stay-at-home order when I was still anxious about whether or not our family would somehow contract the virus. (After 6+ weeks and venturing out to the grocery store a number of times, I’m not so worried.) The thought I had was that this must be how people felt in ancient times about serving people with leprosy. It wasn’t that they didn’t care; it was that the disease was so frightening. I didn’t want to be someone who was afraid to serve (or let family members serve), and I felt Christ would meet real needs without thought to himself. These homeless people are still suffering, still going hungry, we can’t abandon these needs due to fear. My son attended, had a great time, enjoyed his “legal” opportunity to get out of the house, and didn’t contract COVID-19 in the process.

  2. Thanks Lisa! It’s great that your family and ward are able to continue serving; my wife is currently out delivering meals to people who can’t–or shouldn’t–be out themselves. There certainly are opportunities out there to be sheep; we just have to be more active in finding them.

  3. If you, like me, do not need the government’s stimulus money, please donate it to those who are in need. Go to and take the pledge. They list several charities where you can make a difference with this money. We received $2,400 and split it up between the local food bank, a health-care charity, and a couple of other options.

  4. Our family bought 200 pinwheels on Amazon, and have planted them in every yard on our block, and to various other organizations, friends, and family members we’ve encountered. It’s been almost 6 weeks when we planted them, and only 2 neighbors have taken theirs down. Not quite feeding the hungry, but serves as a continuous socially-distanced visit.

  5. Our ward is involved in several local food efforts that require weekly volunteers. I’ve been helping there. I’ve also just been trying to be kind (kinder, more patient) when things have gone wrong re distance work, school, deliveries, etc. We’ve also helped out a couple of neighbors with house repairs (essential ones, not remodels or anything like that). I think sometimes we can look beyond the mark when it comes to following the savior. He didn’t have soup kitchens, homeless shelters, international aid organizations. He just had the people around him. We still do too.

  6. Geoff-Aus says:

    It might be a time to look at the big picture? How might America become a more caring and equitable society? Should you be advocating for change? Should you be voting for change?
    In this time when leaders can choose between science, or ideology, and the cost of that choice is evident in deaths, be aware of this and point this out to people who are not concerned by 85,000 deaths likely doubling.
    I refrained from listing other problems.
    Of course do what you can individually.

  7. As all my shopping has moved online, I’ve tried to include purchases for others. For example, many charities have public Amazon wishlists, many domestic violence shelters have registered wishlists at and food banks are legion and accept donations of any size. I love the wishlists most because it’s something tangible someone needs, and that makes the process feel more personal and real than donations often do.

  8. I do regular grocery shopping trips for an older couple who can’t go out. I also made and donated a number of masks to a local “sewing brigade” that has distributed them throughout the community. The most recent set of recipients was, I believe, a local homeless shelter.

  9. wayfarer says:

    We’re a family that need to isolate due to medical conditions, but try to keep in contact with the vulnerable, whether in the ward or community. Sometimes friendship, a little pleasantry or greeting is what people need, a sense of being connected.

  10. SisterStacey says:

    I’ve been sending emails, letters, postcards, etc., to friends who asks. Getting a bit of mail really helps. I donated to the local food bank, and I’m shopping for a neighbor. The opportunities are there, you just have to look for them. But also if you don’t feel up to doing this and, like me some days, are barely surviving the day mentally, don’t stress.
    It really bothers me that anytime being single in the Church is addressed, like a recent video from Elder Christofferson, it’s all “you’re part of the community!” Don’t feel part of the community? Have you tried service? They put the onus back on the single person. Some days if I get through the day having fed myself and my pets, I’ll call it a success.

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