The Rt. Rev. Allen Bartlett, Jr.: “The Other Sheep”
John 10:16 I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.
Come with me in a descent from Mt. Sinai. It is 1993, and I am concluding a sabbatical at St. George’s College in Jerusalem. One of the last events is a trip to Mt. Sinai in the desert far to the south.
We spend the night in sleeping bags at the foot of Mt. Sinai, under a brilliant full moon. We climb that massive, barren mound of rock in the morning, then begin the descent.
It is late afternoon, clear, a vast rocky terrain. Then I notice, on a far slope over there across the valley, at least a half mile away, some black and white specks, and a burst of color. Out come the field glasses: it’s a flock of goats. In the rear, there is the shepherd—no, it’s a shepherdess, in magenta and turquoise, as if going to a banquet.
She is doing the same thing as young Moses did 3000-plus years ago right here, tending the flock of his father-in-law, when God called him out of the burning bush.
But then I ask myself: why is she behind? Don’t shepherds lead?
Then I notice: there, way behind, are a few single stragglers, little guys, clambering to keep up, bleating. The ones in front know the way; the ones in the back could get lost in this rocky, waterless wilderness. She raises her vivid cloak and staff—they leap forward. And I understand better about caring in the midst of risk and danger.
We sometimes call this “Good Shepherd Sunday,” because of the lessons, particularly the Gospel. That’s why the procession began this mornng near the “Good Shepherd” window. It’s all about caring…the kind of care that a good shepherd gives to the sheep. And in particular, the kind of care we find in Christ. Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. Two things stand out to me in this Gospel passage. The first is that in Christ care is personal.
When God chose to communicate with human beings, he did not just send words, a message, tablets of stone, a book. God sent these, yes, but then God came in person…in the person of Jesus Christ. The Word was made flesh.
And what a person! Jesus was like a good shepherd, a real shepherd, not a hired hand who runs away at the first sign of trouble, the first wolf circling the flock.
Jesus calls twelve to work with him, he knows them, they know him, and they know he cares about them, and they gradually come to understand that he will be with them forever… in this life and the life to come.
And Jesus carries out this very personal ministry everywhere he goes. He teaches in small groups and in crowds of 5000, he heals people one by one, he tells stories that touch the heart, and sometimes he confronts people with uncomfortable truth.
Ultimately, he lay down his life for his sheep.
The other dimension of the care of Christ we see here is how far it reaches. “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice.”
The mercy and loving care of Christ was always going beyond what anyone expected. Again and again he reached out to peoples who were considered outside the range of God’s care. Samaritans, who were thought to be some kind of heretics. Women, who were sort of beneath notice, considered unimportant by the all-male religious hierarchy. Lepers, considered unclean and probably punished by God for some sin they might have committed. Tax collectors, who were generally notorious sinners. Romans, who were not only gentiles but were oppressors. The woman taken in adultery. And the poor in general, who were more or less discounted, taken for granted, by the religious establishment.
When Jesus spent a lot of time with these sorts of people, even calling some of them to be his closest associates, it inevitably made for trouble…as it does with his followers today.
Some of you may know the name of the Rev. Paul Washington. He was the Rector of the Church of the Advocate in Philadelphia from 1962 to 1989. The Advocate is the largest Episcopal Church building in Philadelphia, massive, cathedral-like, but with a very small congregation in a difficult area of North Philadelphia. In 1962 it was sadly deteriorated, a mission of the diocese. Bishop Bob Dewitt put Paul Washington there to do what he could.
Paul, a tall, lean African American man with a rich baritone voice and arresting presence, began a ministry to the neighborhood. He started a major soup kitchen operating every day of the week. Other ministries followed. Paul began to be heard when issues of social justice arose in the city. His dignified but clear and challenging voice was heard.
In about 1968 the Black Panthers were a very controversial force in this country, and they wanted to meet in Philadelphia. Who would have them? They asked to meet at the Church of the Advocate. Paul gave them permission. When riots were sweeping this country after Martin Luther King was assassinated, Paul Washington was on the streets of Philadelphia, and he was arrested, but he was probably one of the main reasons there were no real riots there.
That era passed, but Paul’s voice was not stilled. He always took the side of the underdog, the oppressed as he saw it.
In about 1988 a remarkable thing happened. The City of Philadelphia presented him with the Philadelphia Award, the highest honor it could bestow. It was ironic but gratifying to see in the audience, saluting this man for his courage, people like Frank Rizzo, Jr., whose father as Mayor had repeatedly arrested Paul Washington.
Paul’s autobiography is entitled, “Other Sheep I Have.”
“I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice.”
Our Collect for today prays that “When we hear his voice we may know him who calls us each by name, and follow where he leads.”
How do we do that?
On the one hand, by seeking to express personally the same kind of care that we receive from Christ. This means human contact. Trying to get to know human beings, not just causes, issues. Sending money for good causes is fine, but we need to try to discern a human face behind the issues. And there is nothing like just being there personally to give integrity and authenticity to your caring. Was it Woody Allen who said, “Ninety percent of life is just showing up”?
On the other hand, the harder part is reaching with Christ to those beyond, those we would not ordinarily think about, the other sheep who are not of this fold.
I have learned since 9/11 of 2001 that I need to reach out to my Jewish and Muslim brothers and sisters, to come to know them, their joys, their fears, their concerns for the future.
I work and pray that our nation will take a strong lead in seeking to bring peace between Palestinians and Israelis, that we will push the “Road Map” for peace forward strongly. Some Palestinians are Christians, most are Muslim; Israel is a Jewish state, though some Christians and Muslims live there. They are mostly “not of this fold.”
But Christ’s concern and compassion reach beyond. Jesus said, “God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved by him.”
One of the best examples of what I am trying to encourage came to me this year from the Rev. Ed Bacon, of All Saints, Pasadena, upon his return from South Africa. It had to do with how Nelson Mandela dealt with his 20 years of imprisonment on Robben Island in South Africa.
Mandela and other political prisoners were taken every day to a lime quarry. There they were forced to dig through rock with pick and shovel to reach layers of lime. The conditions were totally inhumane. The hot sun reflecting off the white stone was blinding. The glare permanently damaged the prisoners’ eyes. The only place of shade was a cave which they used as a bathroom and a place for lunch.
Mandela and the prisoners could have simply cursed their guards and South Africa and God. But Mandela had other ideas. He envisioned a new South Africa some day.
He divided his fellow political prisoners into small groups. To each group he assigned a prisoner who before his arrest had been a teacher or had expertise in some academic field. While they were all working the teacher would share what he knew about his academic field. So in that lime quarry there were small groups
discussing economics, history, literature, political theory, and the sciences. During the course of their imprisonment, each prisoner would work with different teachers. By the end of their imprisonment, many of these prisoners received academic certificates, from what they began to call “Robben Island University.”
You may have heard that story. You may not have heard about the guards. The guards of course supported apartheid, and the prisoners thought of them as evil. During the seminars, sometimes the guards became curious and moved closer to listen. The prisoners resented this.
But Mandela took an astonishing position, full of vision and grace. He said, “These men will one day be our fellow citizens. It is in our enlightened self-interest that they be as educated as we are, and that we begin now to be their colleagues.” So they allowed the
apartheid guards to come as close as they wanted.
After the apartheid regime collapsed, Robben Island was transformed from being a prison to being a museum for freedom and democracy. And many of the Robben Island guards received academic certificates from Robben Island University.
“I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.”
Christ reaches out to the other sheep, the ones standing on the edge, listening, those of other faiths, the strident and the angry, the little ones bleating, scrambling to keep up.
God give us the grace to go and do likewise.