Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away– and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the 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. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”
Most of this passage are things Jesus says about himself. “I am the Good Shepherd,” “I lay down my life,” “I know my own,” “I have other sheep not of this fold,” “I have power to lay down my life and power to take it up again.” He does, however, refer to 3 other people or groups: the Father, the hired hand and the sheep.
When Jesus speaks of the Father, this language reminds me of the first chapter of John, or 1st John. We are again caught up in the mystery of the Trinity, three distinct persons (in this case, referring to just 2) and seeing their interconnectedness, their inseparability. “The Father knows me and I know the Father.” Their love is shared as well, and finds its fullness in Christ’s death and resurrection: “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again.”
The hired hands are distinctly different. There is no mystery here. They have a job to do: flock leadership and protection. They are not the enemy, but when push comes to shove, they do not have the commitment, power, or courage to stay at their post. They value their lives more than the sheep because they do not have the power to take up their lives again should they loose them. Their ability to protect the flock is limited.
It’s pretty clear that we as the church are sheep. Period. This is not a glamorous calling, though there is a calling, a vocation, in being a sheep. Our purpose is to graze and go where the shepherd calls us to go to.
My question this morning was this: As a leader, are these my only options? I don’t want to be a hired hand! That sounds like setting myself up for failure–I will flee when a wolf comes along! No, we have to recognize that for all of us, the only safety and security we have is in our proximity to the Good Shepherd, who will lay down his life for us precisely because he has the power to take it up again.
No, for our answer we need to look someplace else, like John 21. This is where Peter encounters the resurrected Christ on the shores of the Sea of Tiberius, after an all-night fishing expedition. As Jesus feeds Peter breakfast, he asks Peter, “Do you love me?” Peter responds, “Yes, Lord.” And Jesus counters (repeatedly) “Feed my sheep.”
How simple this is! The ultimate protection and leading of the flock is Christ’s task alone. As leaders, we are not required to chart a new course, or defend against the evil of the world, rather we are to encourage the consumption of the Word of God, whatever is true, lovely and right, for the sake of healthy sheep. Of course, we alert the Shepherd when there is a wolf–but he’s already aware. We then listen to his voice in those circumstances and encourage those around us to do the same.