I remember feeling very depressed when I wrote this story. It is an adult story and the title is obviously based on the Alpha Course. I wanted to introduce caricature characters (which I did with the antagonists). I worry though that they are just seen as stereotypes (which is not my intention). What I discovered through this story was that I have the ability to make people angry in my writing (which may be easier than causing other more positive emotions). I have had some strange responses to this story.
The Omega Group
“Take out your bibles and turn with me to the parable of the sheep and the goats…”
“…He means, ‘prophecy’,” interrupted Tim Tyler’s wife Jane.
“Please turn to the prophecy of the sheep and the goats,” continued Tim Tyler to the Bible study group seated around his living room that night.
There were five of them in the room. Church pillar Tim Tyler, aged 45, his wife Jane, aged 43, new Christian Zack, aged 19, church regular Gareth, 29 and Linda, 18.
Tim Tyler read out the story of the sheep and the goats with great enthusiasm and dramatic effect. This night was important to him, one way or the other. He handed out some sheets of paper he had printed out earlier to everybody. Zack was sitting in a chair on his own. Everyone else was on the two couches, Tim and Jane together and Linda and Gareth together. At the top of the sheets was a question:
‘How can we apply this scripture to our lives today?’
Gareth shut his Bible and announced: “I don’t understand it.”
“Good, Gareth, that’s very honest of you, sometimes the Bible can be hard to understand.”
“For instance,” continued Gareth, “Who exactly are the sheep and who precisely are the goats?”
Tim Tyler sniffed, “Your question is valid. The sheep are the doers of God’s word.”
“Right,” replied Tim.
“I’m not a sheep,” grumbled Zack from nowhere.
“So, who are the goats?” asked Gareth.
“The goats are those who don’t do God’s word,” Tim Tyler looked at his wife and smiled. She failed to smile back.
“Non-Christians you mean?” asked Gareth.
“On the whole, yes. Understand now?”
“Great. Now, if you look at your sheets. I was asking…”
“Then who are the wolves?” asked Zack.
“The wolves are non-Christians too, but that’s something else Jesus said elsewhere in his word.”
“But we are all sheep yeah?” pressed Zack.
“What else did Jesus call us?”
Tim Tyler looked momentarily confused.
“Err…he described us as stars and salt, branches on the vine. A city on a hill. He also said we should be as wise as serpents but as innocent as doves.”
Jane snorted at the word ‘innocent’.
“Didn’t he once say we were lions?” Zack scratched his head.
“No. Sometimes Jesus himself is called the Lion of Judah.”
“I’m confused. So we are all sheep and there’s a lion leading us and everyone else is a wolf or a goat?”
“Kind of, yes.”
“So where do the fish come in? Because at church they were talking about catching fish.”
“And who are the goodies?” Linda spoke for the first time that night.
Tim Tyler attempted to answer Linda’s question. It seemed easier.
“We are the goodies. Except we’re sinners too.”
“So we’re baddies?”
“No, Linda, you don’t understand – there’s irony at work in this.” Tim Tyler took a deep breath, “We are sheep, but we are also sinners and knowing or acknowledging this makes us good. Whereas the people who say they’re good are really sinners because they won’t admit that they are sinners.”
“That sounds a bit fishy,” said Gareth unhelpfully.
“Look. Jane, back me up on this will you? It’s quite simple. Once you accept Jesus as your Lord and Saviour you become one of his sheep. We were once sinners, but now we’re righteous.”
Jane shrugged, “Jesus looks at us not as we are now, but as we will be one day.”
“It’s spiritual,” concluded Tim Tyler.
“Oh,” said Zack.
“I’m still not clear Tim,” Gareth said, “Are you saying we are sinners, but we know we’re sinners, so that makes us good? But non-Christians are sinners but they don’t know they are sinners and think they are good, so that makes them goat-like, wolfish baddies?”
“I’ll make some tea,” sighed Jane and went off to the kitchen.
“This is very basic stuff. Gareth has almost got it. It’s very black and white. We are God’s children. Non-Christians are children of the devil.”
Linda jumped in her seat, “I really don’t like the idea of living with wolves and aren’t snakes bad and what’s this about the devil?”
“Look Linda, forget the snakes and the wolves. We can’t judge. Only God can.”
“I wasn’t judging anyone. You started this,” replied Linda.
“No, no, forget that. Just focus on the goats and the sheep will you?”
“Okay! Goats. Sheep. Whatever!”
Jane returned to the room. “I think my loving husband is trying to say that it’s a simile – we are like sheep because usually we do God’s word, don’t we Timothy?” Jane handed out cups of tea to everyone except her husband and sat down.
“I don’t always feel like a sheep.”
“Again, that’s very honest of you Gareth.”
“You look a bit like a sheep,” observed Zack.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Look, I’m just going on what Jesus said.”
“No please!” Tim Tyler picked up the remaining cup of tea, “We’re spiritual sheep; it’s not to be taken literally. It’s spiritual.”
“Oh,” said Zack.
Jane said, “I think Linda had a point when she said it was scary thinking that we are surrounded by spiritual wolves.”
Tim Tyler turned to his wife, “Listen, I’m just saying what Jesus said.”
“You parrot,” said Jane and everybody except Tim Tyler snickered.
“Yes, thank you Jane. I knew I could count on your support in this. Well it all comes down to those who do God’s will and those who don’t and I’m afraid some people, even Christians, can behave like…”
“Yes?” interrupted Jane.
“Hold on,” announced Gareth, “I’ve just found something in my Bible which I think is relevant.” He went on to read a scripture about wolves in sheep’s clothing.
Tim Tyler tried to smile. “Yes, well done Gareth. I’m glad to see someone is taking this seriously. Sometimes the wolves, the goats, disguise themselves as sheep.”
“You can fool man, but you can’t fool God,” said Jane pointedly.
“Look,” said Tim Tyler, “This conversation is not very edifying and we’re getting no where. It’s spiritual okay?”
“Oh,” replied Zack.
“Why didn’t Jesus call himself a sheep then?” asked Gareth.
“Aha, he did! He called himself God’s lamb…”
“No he didn’t,” interrupted Linda, “he called himself the good shepherd. John the Baptist called him the lamb of God, based on an Old Testament prophecy.”
Jane began to laugh into her hand.
At last Tim Tyler turned to his wife: “Look, I’m sorry for earlier Jane okay?”
“There’s a time and a place for all things,” she said.
“What happened earlier?” asked Gareth.
“Let’s just say Timothy here wasn’t behaving like a good sheep,”
“We’re supposed to be having a Bible study,” said Tim Tyler, looking uncomfortable.
“Baaaa,” bleated Jane.
“Hold on,” said Zack, “How can I be sure I’m a sheep and not a goat?”
Tim Tyler sighed deeply.
“You are a sheep Zack. Look, it’s spiritual okay?”
There was silence in the room for a long minute then. Nothing in the room moved except for Jane’s foot. She had her legs crossed and she was making quick circles in the air with her right foot. Everybody was looking at Jane’s foot. First she made circles with it, moving only from the ankle downwards. Then she began to rock her foot and lower leg backwards and forwards in quick movements. After a while she returned to circling her foot again. It went on this way for a while.
Finally Tim Tyler said, “Perhaps if we go on to the second question on our sheets.” As they began to read he stood up and collected the empty cups and made towards the kitchen. Jane was still drinking her tea and on his way Tim accidentally knocked his wife’s arm, making her spill tea over her top.
“You oaf!” she shouted.
“Jane it was an honest accident.”
“Fool,” she retorted and left the room, going upstairs to change.
After she had left Linda said:
“Perhaps we should all pray.”
It was the most sensible thing anyone had said up until then.
“No, no” said Tim Tyler, “We can pray later. This is important to me. We’re going to complete this Bible study if it kills us. Gareth, please read out the next question on your sheet.”
“What did you actually do earlier?” asked Zack.
“That’s between me and Jane. Gareth read out the question.”
‘Why would Jesus tell us what will happen on judgment day before it happens?’
“I don’t think some of my friends would take kindly to your referring to them as children of the devil,” said Zack.
“I just came here for the Bible study,” Gareth held up his hands.
Tim Tyler looked at Zack with disgust.
“Seriously man,” continued Zack, “I’m not happy about this discrimination between the wolves and the goats.”
“Sheep,” corrected Gareth.
“He knows what I mean.”
“I really feel we should pray NOW,” said Linda.
It was too late.
“Forget the damned sheep, forget the damned goats you stupid idiot, it’s spiritual okay?” shouted Tim Tyler.
Linda seemed to be on the verge of tears.
“I really feel I should go now,” said Zack and he stood up.
“No you don’t.” said Tim Tyler standing up and pushing Zack down into his seat again.
“Okay. Why is it spiritual then? And don’t call me names,” said Zack patiently.
“Because it is. Stop crying Linda.”
Linda wiped her nose.
“What is all this about?” asked Gareth “It just seems a little…godless.”
“Oh it’s all about Jesus,” said Tim.
Gareth shook his head. “I’m going.” He said. He stood up, picked up his Bible and left without anyone stopping him.
Linda was still crying. Zack sat there looking down at his sheet, saying nothing. Tim Tyler said:
“This night is important to me. Focus on the question you two. Stop crying Linda.”
Linda tried to stop crying. One of her tears landed on her sheet and it blurred the ink
“I want to leave.” Said Zack.
“Well you can’t. Now shut up and act normally. Jane’s coming back.”
Jane came down the stairs and entered the room in a new black top.
“Where’s Gareth?” she asked.
“He had to leave,” said Tim. “Lock the front door now Jane.”
Jane went and locked the front door.
“This is really scary for me,” said Zack.
“No. This is important. Answer the question Zack.”
Zack said nothing.
“Linda. You seem to be so clever tonight. You answer the question.”
“What question?” asked Linda through her tears.
“Why would Jesus tell us what will happen before it actually happens?”
“I don’t know,” said Linda.
“Right. Jane, fetch the things from the kitchen please.”
“Are you serious?”
“Just do it.”
Jane got up, went to the kitchen and returned with two sharp carving knives, masking tape and a length of rope. She handed one knife to her husband.
“What is the answer?” asked Tim.
“Jesus is the answer,” replied Zack.
“Don’t be trite with me! Answer the question!”
Linda spoke up. “Jesus gave us the prophesy of the sheep and the goats before it happens as a warning. He told us so that we would do the things he commands before the event.”
“It’s okay Linda,” said Zack.
“Good Linda. Good. And perhaps to keep things into perspective don’t you agree?”
“Yes,” replied Linda.
“Now we’re getting somewhere. Zack, contribute please. And read out the next question.”
Zack said “No.”
“Jane, tie him up.”
Jane used the rope to tie Zack tightly to his chair.
“Her too?” asked Jane after she had finished.
“No. Just sit next to her.”
Jane sat next to Linda with the knife in her hand.
“So then. Next question. I’ll read it. “How are we to distinguish between the sheep and the goats?”
“That’s easy,” said Jane.
“Jane I am sorry for earlier.”
“It’s okay now,” replied Jane.
“What?!” said Zack.
“Any ideas Zaccaria?” said Tim, “No? Jane, use the tape please.”
Jane picked up the masking tape and used it to cover Zack’s mouth. Zack remained completely still. Tim was still holding his knife.
Linda replied, “Their fruit. You’ll know them by what they do.”
“Good girl. But you irritate me. Jane – the tape.”
Jane taped Linda’s mouth.
Zack had closed his eyes.
“Are you praying Zack? Good for you. I like to see that I am encouraging the youth into prayer.”
Tim got up from the couch and kneeled in front of Zack.
“Zachary, Zachary, Zackary. You really don’t know what all this is about do you?”
He reached up and touched Zack’s throat with the knife and then cut deep.
As the blood squirted out Linda went hysterical. Her screams were muffled and she tried to stand up. She shot at Tim Tyler and head butted him, knocking him across the floor. Jane screamed: “God, Tim you weren’t supposed to kill him!”
Quickly Linda turned, wrenched the other knife from Jane and pointed it towards them both.
“nnnghhh mmmnnfth” said Linda, which was going to be the words ‘Don’t move.’ Except for the tape.
Tim turned round to Linda and held his own knife in the air as if in surrender.
“Linda. Put the knife down. Just put the knife down please.”
Linda reached up and tore the masking tape from her mouth, which hurt her a lot.
“I don’t care. God help me I’ll kill you if you don’t put that knife down. Jane sit down.”
Jane, who was edging towards Linda sat down.
“You know. There is a reason for all this.”
“What?” asked Linda. “Look at him.”
Tim, still on his knees, looked at Zack. He was clearly dead and the blood just kept coming.
“Call the police. If you don’t I’ll kill you both I swear.”
Tim dropped the knife and phoned the police.
In the police station and throughout the trial Tim and Jane Tyler would only give one reason for their actions. Questioned again and again the reply was, “It’s spiritual.”