Jesus healed a blind man in John 9. The Pharisees put on an inquiry to find out if some law had been broken. These wise leaders were too simple to understand what the simple blind man could see instantly.
“You don’t know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners…..If this man were not from god, he could do nothing.” 9:30,33
They blindly threw out the blind man who could see.
In the next chapter Jesus spoke of himself as a Shepherd. First that those who come in over the wall are not the true shepherds. Here he was referring to those blind leaders who did not enter by God’s word, but by their own word.
Then he said, that he himself was the Gate to the sheep. He was the only way in for the sheep and the shepherds.
Then he said that he was himself the Good Shepherd. The Pharisees of Chapter 9 were bad shepherds.
Here then is the fifth word to Pastors.
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.” v. 11-13
The very name Pastor means Shepherd. We Pastors have to ask ourselves, “Are we really shepherds or just hired hands?”
The hired hand has two defining qualities according to Jesus’ words. He runs away from danger and he cares nothing for the sheep.
Jesus picked up an important theme from the Old Testament.
The Lord is my shepherd,
I shall not be in want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he restores my soul,
He guides me in the paths of righteousness
for his names sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
“Woe to the shepherds of Israel who only take care of themselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally. So they were scattered because there was no shepherd, and when they were scattered they became food for all the wild animals. My sheep wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. They were scattered over the whole earth, and no one searched or looked for them.”
Here is a rich vein of instruction for all who Pastor the flock of God. Who of us could possibly stand the scrutiny of the words of Ezekiel? How searching they are! Have I ever thought of myself first? Have I ever spoke of the sheep as belonging to me? Have I ever wept over the broken down Church of God where sheep are scattered because the leaders thought first of their own needs? Do I leave the 99 who are happy with me to go listen to the disgruntled 1 who is so angry with me that he left?
Her eyes sparkled and her wrinkled face was radiant as she said, “He was like God to us.” The elderly saint was referring to a very loved Pastor. He had been there when the children were baptized and later confirmed and still later married. He was the first face seen when waking up from the surgical anesthesia. His home was open for Sunday dinner, especially for the single students far from home. He taught the word. And so this sheep was yet in awe of his memory.
Yet the phrase “He was like God” is disturbing. If it meant that he was often the one who’s voice spoke out loud the Word of God and who’s presence showed in the flesh the love of God who has no body, then it is ok. However I wonder if he did not become a bit confused with his Over-shepherd.
The Good Shepherd owns the sheep. Pastors don’t own anyone. Does that make us hired hands? No. We don’t run away, and we do care a great deal for the sheep.
We are under-shepherds. We serve the Good Shepherd. He owns the sheep. He gave his life’s blood to buy them and us as well. We serve in his flock as under-shepherds because he has asked us. They are never really ours because they are his.
I have seen it increasingly in the eyes of the sheep. It is not the glow of the older saint, but is the question mark in the eyes of the younger sheep.
“What does he want?”
“Wouldn’t he really like it better if I just left?”
“Is he doing something with the other shepherds that I should know about?”
“If he really knew me, he wouldn’t love me.”
“Why does he keep looking at his watch?”
The older saint had seen faults in her under-shepherd, and could even tell a good story at his expense. But those flaws only made the bond stronger.
The younger saints see faults and wonder if they don’t reveal a much bigger fault. They could forgive a mis-stated historical fact in the sermon, and even the way we mix up names and family connections. But they sense that what they see is not so innocent as that. What they see is a heart that is empty of love and full of something else. It could be ambition or vision or a love for process. It could be annoyance at being disturbed from his study to deal with a human need.
We think because they need direction that sheep are stupid. They may choose stupid paths and they may choose the wrong grass to eat. But they do not make mistakes in judging the heart of their shepherds. Their lives depend on the shepherd, and they know it.
If we make mistakes along the way, they are forgotten. We become the butt of loving humor. If we forget that we should love, feed and defend the sheep one of two things will happen: They leave or they turn on us.
Their bodies may remain in the pew long after their hearts and minds have gone elsewhere. It sometimes takes a long time for the body to actually follow the heart in leaving.
Or they may turn into wolves. It is a kind of anti-miracle that these fuzzy gentle creatures can sprout claws and fangs and turn on us. When the sheep become wolves, it is because of the shepherds.
Later in this chapter Jesus said, “I lay down my life for the sheep.” v. 15. Later in the Gospel he said, “Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends…” 15:13,14. And still later he said to his apostles, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 21:21
“As” means many things. One of those is that Jesus came as a shepherd who gave his life for his sheep. We also show our love by laying down our lives for the sheep.
Shepherding is a trade and it is a way of life. We learn our trade by schooling and by experience. We can not lay it aside after hours. There are no “after hours” for shepherds.
A profession is hard to enter because the guardians of professions want to maintain the prestige and the market value of those called. Shepherds are different. The sheep are not a route for advancement. They are not numbers leading to a resume. They are people with names and families. The more we know them and their places of living and working, the better we can be their pastors.
Many professions have a union or guild. What would be the point of a shepherds union? Wouldn’t the sheep die while the owner and the shepherds argued?
Shepherding is a calling. It is a calling to avoided at all costs, unless you are called by the Good Shepherd.
“Set a guard over my mouth, O Lord;
Keep watch over the door of my lips.
Let not my heart be drawn to what is evil
to take part in wicked deeds
with men who are evil doers.
Let me not eat of their delicacies.
An oracle is within my heart,
concerning the sinfulness of the wicked,
There is no fear of God before their eyes,
For in his own eyes he flatters himself
Too much to detect of hate his sin.
David E. Carlson c 2000