by David Sisler

In sports, it's a common concept, easily accepted, easily understood. The substitute.

This is the game that will determine which team makes it to the playoffs and which team says, "Wait until next year." The quarterback has a championship ring, but today his passes are falling short. When the offense takes the field late in the fourth quarter, a substitute, a backup settles under center and takes the snap. As the final gun sounds, the rookie is scrambling. A desperation pass! Touchdown! A new hero!

Decades ago, when many of the medical advances we take for granted were discovered, it was a common concept, easily accepted, easily understood. The substitute.

Today the danger is easily comprehended. Appropriate safeguards are taken. But back then researchers used their own bodies to test their theories. They exposed themselves to radium and X-rays. They allowed malaria infested mosquitos to drink their blood. They experimented with anaesthesia, putting themselves to sleep with no guarantee of ever waking again.

On the battlefield, it's a common concept, easily accepted, easily understood. The substitute.

The S.S. Dorchester had once been a luxury cruise liner. 314 passengers could sail across the Atlantic Ocean in elegant style. But with Nazi submarines sinking Allied ships faster than they could be replaced, the Dorchester was gutted and refitted as a troop transport, capable of shipping 900 soldiers.

At 12:55 a.m. on Wednesday, February 3, 1943, the Dorchester was caught in the sights of a U-Boat. One torpedo struck deep below the waterline. Before dawn could penetrate the darkness, 604 men, two-thirds of the ship's complement, were dead.

Among the dead were George Fox, a former Methodist circuit riding preacher; David Goode, a rabbi from York, Pennsylvania; Clark Poling, a Yale Divinity School graduate and a pastor from Schenectady, New York; and John Washington, a Catholic priest serving a parish in Arlington, New Jersey. When war was declared, all four volunteered for the Corps of Chaplains.

That February night, as their ship was sinking, they helped their comrades abandon ship. They opened storage lockers and passed out life jackets. They guided men to their lifeboat stations. They coaxed men, frozen with fear, over the side.

As the S.S. Dorchester slipped under the frigid waters of the Atlantic, the four chaplains, Fox, Goode, Poling, and Washington, linked their arms together, prayed with the men still on board the ship, and died because four of the life jackets they had given away, were the four they had been wearing.

In everyday life, it's a common concept, easily understood. The substitute.

For 20 years, J.B. Middlebrook directed the British Baptist Missionary Society. Although Middlebrook only had one arm, his colleagues often commented that he did the work of two men. At a retirement diner in his honor, he revealed the reason. During the first World War, a young man fighting beside him, lost not his arm, but his life.

Middlebrook said, "My friend was dedicated to the Mission field. When he died, I felt that I just had to do the work of two. For his death shielded me."

Just one more.

Matthew, the former tax collector, recorded it: "Then Pontius Pilate released Barabbas unto them: and when he had scourged Jesus, he delivered Him to be crucified.

The prophet Isaiah said, "We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all."

And now the concept of a substitute changes. It is not so readily accepted. It is not so easily understood. But one man, God the son, died for all, and if you want to share in his eternal life, you must accept him. The substitute. Yours and mine.


Published in the Augusta Chronicle 12/17/94

Copyright 1994 by David Sisler

Your comment is welcome. Write to me at:

Back to David Sisler's Home Page