Ever had a job you really didn’t like? My first real proper job was almost as good as my current vocation 😉 It was mundane, simple. Only joking. It was open, social and there was a real sense of community… My first proper job was cleaning a production line at a food processing factory and I loved it.
Ever had a job that you felt defined who you were? Good or bad? Bad because it shaped what people thought of you? If so try being a Minister. Oh please what a pfaff. I remember when I first told my work colleagues that I was leaving. My boss asked who I was going to work for… you can imagine his face when I told him, tongue in cheek, that I was going to work for GOD. The people I worked with asked “no really what are you going to do?” It’s worse since actually, There are strange expectations of “how you will behave” “what you will talk about” “what you are interested in” and even down to “how you should dress”. Or when you inevitably have the “what do you do for a living” chat and you can’t just say “what do I do for a living? Well eating and breathing keep me living very well thanks” and so you tell them and the conversation grinds to a halt. Normally because they don’t want all the Jesus stuff.
Sometimes the good thing about being defined by your job, your work, is that you kind of know who you are or where you are meant to be? That sense of purpose, achievement and fulfillment. And that can mean in any job or work. You can find real meaning in whatever you do and so that has to be a good thing.
Before we get into the text for today we have Jesus healing a blind man and He gets into trouble for it. Jesus does what He is supposed to do. His purpose, His job? (Luke 4 and when John the Baptist enquires about the messiah in Matthew 11, Jesus replies “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: 5 The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. 6 Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.”) Because of this healing the pharisees embark on an inquiry into the whole thing. They refused to believe that Jesus had performed a miracle and tried to discredit Him. They deny that He is who He says He is and that He couldn’t really be doing these things.
Jesus begins to answer their questions and accusations and the verses we have here are a part of this overall discourse. The lead up to what Jesus says in these verses are… First he questions their spiritual blindness… Then begins a description of various leaders (i.e. shepherds, gates, gate keepers, thieves robbers) We could talk more on this but Jesus makes the point that they may think they are shepherds of God’s people but that is not the job they have been doing, and worse still, they have in fact been abusing their position. We then arrive at V11-18 the good shepherd/hired hand discourse.
Good shepherd and Hired hands – job descriptions
Where is the job description then for the Good Shepherd?
Ezekiel 34 – Jesus takes the metaphor of good and bad shepherds from Ezekiel 34, (please read later or you can now if you like – just put me on pause) Here God speaks of the shepherds of Israel—that is the religious leaders—”who feed themselves!. Their motivation is not positive but greed and self serving. The question is “Shouldn’t the shepherds feed the sheep?” You eat the fat, and you clothe yourself with the wool, you kill the fatlings; but you don’t feed the sheep” (Ezekiel 34:2-3). It contrasts these bad shepherds with God, the true shepherd (Ezekiel 34:11-31). The passage concludes with God promising Israel, “You my sheep, the sheep of my pasture” (Ezekiel 34:31).
So in John 10:11-13. Aligns Himself with this description by saying –
11“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12He who is a hired hand, and not a shepherd, who doesn’t own the sheep, sees the wolf coming, leaves the sheep, and flees. The wolf snatches the sheep, and scatters them. 13The hired hand flees because he is a hired hand, and doesn’t care for the sheep.”
It’s not an accident that Jesus uses the term “I am (ego eimi) the good shepherd” in this encounter. Ego eimi is coded language that refers back to Moses’ encounter with God. On that occasion, when Moses asked God’s name, God replied, “You shall tell the children of Israel this: ‘I AM has sent me to you’. God uses this phrase, “I am,” over and over to refer to himself. In other words, ego eimi can be construed as God’s name. When Jesus applies ego eimi to himself, he identifies as “ I am “ himself with God—as God.
Also, the Old Testament uses shepherd as a metaphor for God (Genesis 48:15; 49:24; Psalm 23:1; 28:9; 80:1; Isaiah 40:11). So there would be no doubt that those who heard these words would know that Jesus was equating himself with God the “shepherd” with Himself.
And being a Good shepherd is defining the quality of the job done by the shepherd. This is an important difference in Jesus’ description of the Shepherd and work He does. The two words normally used for GOOD are, AGATHOS and KALOS. Agathos “simply describes the moral quality of a thing.”
Kalos (which is used in this verse), “means that a thing or a person” goes beyond good. It has a double meaning – more than power of goodness but also quality of character.
When people speak of a good doctor, they don’t just mean the technical abilities and knowledge of the Doctor. The level of training etc. Describing a doctor as good means more. We are thinking beyond the doctor’s medical skills to his/her kindness and compassion. The way they do their job. Any of us can be able, if not expert, in our work but we’re not always good or lovely at it.
The first item on this job description is that Jesus is not just a shepherd, not just a competent Shepherd, not just a technically able shepherd but a good shepherd. One who cares more for the quality of the job at hand but cares for the sheep. Not just able to do the job well but is of such a character that can be trusted. An embodiment of the character of God himself that comes only from the Holy Spirit and His fruit of love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
So to the next part of the job description “The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (v. 11b). This brings to mind David, the shepherd boy who kills a lion and a bear in defence of his sheep (1 Samuel 17:35-36). Surely some shepherds lose their lives trying to protect their sheep from wild animals or thieves. Others lose their footing as they search for lost sheep at night, suffering injury or even death. Being a shepherd is not for the fainthearted.
I remember once watching the documentary about Aryton Senna the F1 driver who died at Imola GP in 1994, they interviewed numerous people from owners, engineers, friends, family and the press about the sport and Senna in particular. What struck me was the idea that F1 drivers have something different about the way they think. Some believe that they have something missing in their brains even. And it’s this, they don’t believe anything is going to happen to them. What they meant by that was, as the car speeds into a corner at stupidly fast speeds, normal human beings think “what ifs’ ‘ what if the tyre bursts, what if my brakes fail, what if… and so they are unable to take the corners as a F1 driver would. It’s almost ignorance not courage that enables a F1 driver to keep the foot down when others would ease off. Normal Good Shepherds don’t plan to lay down their own lives, but rather to make their foe lay down his/her life. They protect the sheep but do not want to die in the process.
But Jesus goes beyond that. Goes beyond being a good shepherd. A good shepherd will risk his life to protect the sheep, but that is different from laying down one’s life. The shepherd who risks his life for the sheep does not expect to die, but expects to live. Occasionally, a shepherd will die in an encounter with animals or thieves, but most will not. People who engage in risky occupations typically believe that it will be someone else who is likely to die. Jesus lays down His life for the world as the good shepherd.
“He who is a hired hand, and not a shepherd, who doesn’t own the sheep, sees the wolf coming, leaves the sheep, and flees” If there is such a thing as a good shepherd, there must also be such a thing as a bad shepherd. Jesus contrasts the good shepherd, not with a thief, but with a hired hand—a mercenary who cares only for his paycheck—who has no affection for the sheep and who feels no great responsibility for them—who sees shepherding, not as a calling, but only as a job—who runs away from danger, allowing the wolf to snatch and scatter the sheep. Such a hired hand will tend the sheep only until he receives a better offer. If a sheep wanders off at night, he can easily justify staying with the flock rather than seeking the one who was lost. If a lion stalks the sheep, the hired hand can easily justify sacrificing a lamb or two to save the flock—and himself.
“The hired hand flees because he is a hired hand, and doesn’t care for the sheep” (v. 13). In a sense, having a hired hand as a shepherd is worse than having no shepherd at all. The hired hand gives the illusion of protection without protecting. If the owner has no shepherd, he will work to find one. If he has a hired hand, the owner will relax, thinking that the sheep are safe.
On a morality scale of one to ten, the hired hand is somewhere in the middle. He intends to be neither a hero nor a villain, but becomes a villain because of what happens to the sheep in his care. He fails to recognize (or perhaps to care) that his work is important, literally a matter of life or death for the sheep. His indifference is likely to result in the death of the sheep in his care. His attitude is important, because lives are at stake.
Good shepherds or Hired hand?
There are obvious differences in these two job descriptions and to remind you of my earlier questions about good or bad jobs, I am sure, as I have in the past, faced particular jobs/work with differing expectations and fervour. Been a good whatever in one job and a bad, to varying degrees, in another.
Jesus’ example is not meant to be a stone around our necks but an encouragement. It’s not supposed to give us an unrealistic goal to achieve no matter the cost. Being a good, anything, is sometimes very very difficult. However being a hired hand is not the way to go in any circumstance, especially in our christian life.
In v16 we hear this of the sheep “They too will listen to my voice” Jesus calls us to be His sheep and that has implications. For me it brings to mind Rev 3:15-16 the letter to the church at Laodicea “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will vomit you out of my mouth” It is not enough to go through the motions as a christian. To pay lip service to Jesus’ call on our lives. To do a job without meaning, purpose and being good, in character, at it. Indifference and apathy are as dangerous as not doing anything at all because you are neither good or bad, hot or cold, I believe the phrase is, you are just “meh” and people recognise that straight away. Be honest, you have seen it yourself, in others and it’s not good in the sense of the GOOD we have been talking about today.
Christ calls us, in ways great or small, to proclaim the Good News of the salvation available to all through him. Hear that second word that describes the size of the job. Small. There is no task that is too small to matter. In fact I might argue that the smaller the better. If we are willing to be guided by Jesus’ example in the small things the affect on, not just others, but on us, will be greater. In the parable of the shrewd manager in Luke 16 Jesus says this “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.”
If we act as hired hands I think the implications are clear…
There are good and bad shepherds today, both clergy and laypeople. The difference is in the shepherd’s heart. The good shepherd really cares about people as Jesus does, and that is regardless whether you are a minister, a congregation as a whole, or an individual. Whether we are leading worship, home groups or children’s ministry. Our response to our friends, family work colleagues, all count to being a good shepherd. Because the good shepherd seeks ways to love faithfully, and stands for what is right and loves as Jesus loves. Hired hands care only about their own welfare and for what is important to them not what is needed by others.
LAY DOWN our “EGO”
The crux of the job description of the good shepherd is this… “laying down their life” Putting it to one side for the sake of others. Giving it up. So what can that mean. Jesus did that in the ultimate sense “gave himself”. It’s very rare that we are called to make such a sacrifice but we can “lay down”
In Jesus we have the BIG I AM laying down His life. If it is good enough for God then it must mean something to us. In the familiar verses in John 15 we read “no greater love… as anyone than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” And this verse is within the context of us being part of the vine/branches and bearing fruit. Showing others the love of God to others. Not our love, not in our strength but powered by our relationship with Jesus and openness to God’s Holy spirit. If it wasn’t tough we would not require God’s help to do this.
But it isn’t as we have heard so often that this verse relates to dieing but that we lay down our “ego” for others. To relinquish our demands for the sake of others. Jesus gave up heaven and all the power of God to “lay down his life” for His sheep. But a hired hand is only out for themselves, no one else, so which of these two do you think you would like to like?
When we lay down God picks up our lives again. Jesus did not remain in the grave but after He laid down His life God raised Him up again. That is true for us and Jesus says as much in v17-18 17 The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”
Only when we lay down our ego’s for God and stop doing the job of a hired hand can we experience all the more life that God brings as He raises us up again.