Other Sheep – 4-18-24

You can listen to this reflection here. Sunday’s gospel reading is here

Many sayings of Jesus have inspired Christian evangelism through the ages – the Great Commission, for one, or references in parables to an eternity in hellfire for those who do not accept God’s invitation of salvation. One of the sweeter imperatives to sharing the Good News comes in his somewhat cryptic remark about “other sheep”: 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.

In its early years, the nascent church struggled with issues of inclusion and identity. For whom was Jesus’ message intended? How far were they to stretch the boundaries of belonging? Jesus’ original followers were Jews, and a few times he names the “lost sheep of the house of Israel” as the focus of his mission. Yet the gospels record several occasions when he ministered to Gentiles – non-Jews, Romans and Greeks, Samaritans and even a Syro-Phoenician family. And after his resurrection and ascension, the apostles found themselves confronted with Gentile converts to the Jesus movement, and clear guidance from the Holy Spirit that Jesus’ message and ministry were for all people, for all time. (Read the book of Acts!)

This line about “other sheep that do not belong to this fold” seems to support that view, though Jesus might also have meant people outside the norms of acceptability, those lepers and harlots and bruised and blemished folk that seemed so drawn to him. Whatever groups he was referring to, at the very least he implies that there are insiders and outsiders – and that those outside need to be invited in.

One of the most dangerous descriptors for church communities is, ironically, “family.” A congregation that refers to itself as “just one happy family” is often less likely to grow. Why? Because the group identity is so strong it presents a barrier to those who might want to join. Visitors may be greeted warmly and offered hospitality, but are treated as just that, visitors, not part of the family.

As followers of Christ we are to be always thinking of the sheep that are not in the fold, whom Jesus might want us to invite in. And where will we be most apt to encounter these sheep? Out in the pastures, not in the sheepfold. The more we get ourselves out of our folds into the pastures, the better positioned we will be to come into relationship with others, relationships in which we can naturally talk about our spiritual selves and invite them to share theirs.

What is a “pasture” you might hang out in, getting to know other sheep? How might you  introduce them to our Shepherd, until they can come to know his voice for themselves? Then the next time we come back to the sheepfold – which we need to do, regularly, for rest and refreshment – some of those other sheep just might follow us Home.

© Kate Heichler, 2024. To receive Water Daily by email each morning, subscribe hereHere are the bible readings for next Sunday. Water Daily is also a podcast – subscribe to it here on Apple, Spotify or your favorite podcast platform.

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