The Bible has lots of stories about sheep and shepherds. The shepherd is entrusted with the responsibility of making sure that the sheep are kept safe and well fed. Christians know how honored shepherds are because the announcement of the birth of Jesus Christ as Savior was given to shepherds taking care of their flocks. Being entrusted with someone’s care and safety is not something to be taken lightly.
What are some of the jobs that come to mind when we think about positions of great responsibility? Being a parent is right up there. In the news a lot lately have been teachers, police officers, and government officials. Pastors and councilors are way up there, too.
The Good Shepherd is entrusted to protect the sheep and look out for their best interests first, before even his or her own interests. It is a labor of love, and the sheep in their care are like part of their family. In contrast, the Bad Shepherd thinks the sheep are there for their benefit. This shepherd would not be too excited about John Kennedy’s quote, “Ask not what your (sheep)country can do for you, but what you can do for your (sheep)country.”
I can see why some people of Jesus’ time got so upset with him. He has some nerve. He expects the people who have positions of responsibility to actually act responsibly! You mean the office and the title isn’t enough? Bringing children into the world isn’t enough? You actually have to support, raise, nurture, and love them as well? You got elected to office and you actually have to work with other officials to find the best ways to serve the most people, not just get reelected? You are a service man or woman because your main job is to serve, not to just order people around or wear a cool uniform?
Let’s look a little more closely at Jesus’ wolf and sheep story. Do you know why the hired hand runs away when he sees the wolf coming? It’s because he recognizes the wolf. Do you know why he recognizes the wolf? It’s because he is a wolf in shepherd’s clothing. The wolf is coming to satisfy his or her own appetite. So is the bad shepherd. A wolf recognizes a wolf. They recognize that desire to get the maximum personal gain for the least personal cost. A favorite German expression of mine translates, “Your business is my business, and my business is…none of your business!”
What Jesus is talking about is a timeless issue in the use and abuse of power. It could best be summed up in the quote, “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Certainly, there are extreme situations where a person has to give total or near total control over to another person. I can imagine that in war, natural disasters, and brain surgery, we might have to totally give control over our fate and choices to someone else. We would certainly hope and pray that the person we entrust our lives to have shown themself to have a history of trustworthiness and that their goal would be to give us back control of our own lives as soon as possible.
Sheep may not be the most intelligent animals on the planet, but if their shepherds use and abuse them enough, there may come a time when they no longer recognize the authority of the hired hand who is no shepherd to them. It has come to the forefront in our country that a person has to live up to or be accountable to the people they are entrusted to serve or lead. The title, the uniform, and the office deserves respect, not just in and of itself, but how the person who has the title lives up to their responsibility as a shepherd of the people God has entrusted in their care. In my several years on earth I have seen uniformed officers, elected officials, church officials, coaches, and bosses to name just a few, look out for the best ways to make me a better person. But I have also seen the same kind of people use and abuse their positions of responsibility for their own personal interests.
Jesus spells out what the Good Shepherd should be like. They love those in their care. They put them ahead of their own interests. They share power. They don’t control and manipulate. Those who abuse this trust and responsibility, no matter how high up in position they may be, have been identified by Jesus as having earned the harshest consequences of anyone in the Bible. Let’s pray that we can hold each other accountable for the responsibility we have been entrusted with.