"But there are other sheep of mine," said Jesus,
"not belonging to this fold, whom I must bring in;
and they too will listen to my voice."
… These words once again caused a split.
John 10: 16 and 19 (New English Bible)
Inclusion carries with it its own inherent risk. We are accustomed to the differences that help define the distinctions between people and groups of people. Sometimes these distinctions are artificial, but we value them just the same. They give us a comfort level that allows us to cope with life. Distinctions help to give us the assurance of who we are, and more specifically, who we are in contrast to others.
Jews knew themselves to be different from Samaritans. And better, by implication. And in time, Christians would know themselves to be different from Jews. And, by implication, better. Men, both Jewish men and Christian men, knew themselves to be different from women. And, by implication, better. The narrowing of the net by succeeding generations sought allusive assurances beyond faith and gender with reference to ethnicity, race, economic advantage, and sexual orientation.
Jesus recognized that to be true, and sought to ease the threat by drawing on the experience of his listeners. He told them the parable of the sheep and the sheepfold and the good shepherd. It wasn’t helpful. He might have known they would misunderstand. The story heard to advantage leads to confusion. And, to listen to the story without hearing the challenge, only served to compound the confusion.
Jesus’ explanation didn’t help. It didn’t help at all.
His listeners learned about thieves. And they learned about hirelings. And they didn’t like what they heard. In obvious preference, some might have taken themselves to be the door to the sheepfold, only to discover that it is Jesus who is the way. The story is about him. He is the gate. He is the gatekeeper. He is even the shepherd who might be distinguished as being good.
At best, they were the sheep.
And at best, that is what we are… sheep.
We are not the sheepfold, although we might wish we were. And we are not the gate, although that’s an attractive image for us. We aren’t even shepherds. We are sheep. We are the object of Jesus’ care-giving. And, we discover, Jesus has other sheep! Other sheep besides us!
"And they too will listen to my voice," said Jesus. Beyond what that Galilean voice might have sounded like, what might that voice have said?
Words proclaiming a Kingdom. Words of acceptance. Words of forgiveness. Words of encouragement.
Does Jesus have the capacity to love you… and me? Does Jesus have the capacity to forgive you… as well as me? And if he does, is his capacity sufficient for him to love and forgive others, beyond us and what makes us distinct, so that he might continue to call us by name?
The cross was not sufficient to defeat him. A veil was split, remember, allowing access to the holiness of the Lord.
The tomb was not sufficient to contain him. A seal was split, remember, on a stone barring access to a new sepulchre in a garden, allowing access to a world redeemed.
And neither are we sufficient to contain him. He continues to minister to us gracefully, and to those we are afraid to minister to, in his Name. Alleluia!
Copyright © 1999 James T. Irvine