Good Shepherd vs. Hired Hand
Topic: Biblical Verse: John 10:11–10:18
The Fourth Sunday of Easter – Good Shepherd Sunday
April 25, 2021
“Good Shepherd vs. Hired Hand”
Growing up on the family farm, over the years my dad had a number of hired hands who worked for him. This was before my brother and I were big enough to help with all the work involved with running a farm. I can still see these individuals and remember their names: Henry, Paul, Danny, Jimmy, among others. Sometimes these would be seasonal hired hands who helped with baling hay in the summer or picking corn in the fall. But other times these would be year-round hired hands who were there to help out in every season, doing daily chores of feeding and tending to the livestock or cleaning out the barn and putting new straw down for bedding. But the hired hands were exactly that: hired. They did what they did in order to get paid. My mother fed them during their working hours, and so they often ate at our table. But if something happened after they left for the day, well, that was on you to take care of yourself. Such is the difference that Jesus points out in today’s Gospel lesson on this Fourth Sunday of Easter, often called Good Shepherd Sunday. Jesus tells us: “He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep” (John 10:12-13). Jesus is not like that at all. In contrast to hired hands, Jesus is all in as he makes clear: “ I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11). That’s who Jesus is: the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep. The words of Jesus serve as the basis of today’s message under the theme, “Good Shepherd vs. Hired Hand.” May the Lord’s rich and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word for Jesus’ sake.
Have we become a society of hired hands? That is the assertion made in the book, The Abundant Community: Awakening the Power of Families and Neighborhoods, by John McKnight and Peter Clock (Oakland, CA: Berrett-Koehler, 2010). The authors argue that “we have outsourced our capacity to care to ‘experts.’ Instead of relying on our neighbors, extended family, and friends for support, we rely on paid professionals and service providers” (Sundays and Seasons: Year B, 202. Minneapolis: Augsburg-Fortress, 2020; p. 172). The truth is that “we need our neighbors and community to stay healthy, produce jobs, raise our children, and care for those on the margin... The consumer society tells us that we are insufficient and that we must purchase what we need from specialists and systems outside the community. We have become consumers and clients, not citizens and neighbors… This book reports on voluntary, self-organizing structures that focus on gifts and value hospitality, the welcoming of strangers. It shows how to reweave our social fabric, especially in our neighborhoods…” (The Abundant Community: Awakening the Power of Families and Neighborhoods: McKnight, John, Block, Peter: 9781609940812: Amazon.com: Books). You may or may not agree with all of this, but I believe that there is more than a grain of truth here. Certainly there are times in life when we very much need, and are blessed through, those “hired hands” who come alongside us in different situations and circumstances. But the point of the book is very compelling. Over against hired hands who have only a utilitarian relationship with the flock, we have the Good Shepherd who has invested all of himself in the flock: blood, sweat, and tears. The Good Shepherd who has laid down his life for the flock now calls us, “the people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand” (Psalm 95:7), into community. Now what does that look like?
Community is always under assault by forces bent on evil, and people get caught in the crossfire. People are hurting all around us. While more and more people are getting their COVID vaccinations, new variant strains are on the rise, especially among children and young adults, while the Asian-American community continues to live in fear because of scapegoating. How do we work through pressing border and immigration issues? What about Indianapolis, Boulder, Atlanta, Charleston, and a host of other places as the number of mass shootings is ever increasing while elected leaders debate what to do with the issue of guns and Second Amendment rights? Following the jury conviction this past week in the killing of George Floyd, what does this mean for racial justice in our country? These are complex, real life issues and concerns in our national community. Each of these has the potential to tear us apart or bring us together. What we need are not hired hands, but shepherds, to lead us through these. Who are the shepherds in these situations? Who are the encouragers, the ones who give hope and help? Who are the ones who walk alongside the grief-stricken, the voiceless, the downtrodden and forgotten? That’s where the Good Shepherd will be found: in the midst of the need, raising up under-shepherds to be his hands and feet and mouth. That’s where we come in. The words of today’s Epistle lesson make this abundantly clear: “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:16-18). Take a look around to consider where the Good Shepherd has placed you in life. What are the needs where you are? How would the Good Shepherd use you to bless the lives of those around you? No matter how ill-equipped we may think we are; no matter how difficult or challenging the situation may be; no matter how shy or retiring we may be; no matter what else may be going on in life, our daily calling as children of the Good Shepherd is to point others to him because, as Peter pointed out in the closing verse of today’s Epistle lesson: “…there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
The Good Shepherd has come to unify the sheep: “there will be one flock, one shepherd” (John 10:16), while the wolf “snatches them and scatters them” (John 10:12). In whatever form he may manifest himself, the wolf is all about separating and dividing the flock. We are often quick to identify the divisions, differences, and dissimilarities among us, but in so doing, are we falling prey to the schemes of the enemy? Instead of seeing what unites us and how we can work together under our Good Shepherd, we are prone to focus on what divides us. This is a call for us to renew our trust and confidence in what Jesus says that “there will be one flock, one shepherd” (John 10:16). The verse which comes immediately before today’s Gospel lesson reminds us: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). Isn’t that what we all want: full and abundant life? That’s what our crucified and risen Savior, our Good Shepherd, brings to us. Even death can’t undo what Jesus has done, as the beloved words of Psalm 23 tell us: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me” (Psalm 23:4). We won’t get this through some hired hand, but only through the One who has laid down his life for us, and who is now seated at the right hand of Father (Ephesians 1:20; Colossians 3:1; Hebrews 8:1, 12:2). Jesus our Good Shepherd is not distant and removed from us. He is right here among us today in his gifts of Word and Sacrament to strengthen and sustain his flock.
On this Fourth Sunday of Easter, with our eyes fixed on Jesus our Good Shepherd, let us listen to his voice and follow where he is leading from this life to life eternal. May God make it so for Jesus’ sake. Amen.