Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Are you a good shepherd or a hireling?

I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.  He who is a hireling, and not a shepherd, who is not the owner of 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 hireling and is not concerned about the sheep.”
John 10:11-12

         As we read this tender allegory, the Good Shepherd passes before our eyes, a gracious, well-loved reassuring figure. All about Him there is an atmosphere that induces confidence. A sense of security pervades the story. The bond between Him and His flock is high and perfect. He knows their names. They know His voice; they recognize its tones; they cannot be deceived. And whether they are biding in the fold or being put forth to pasture, it is enough for them to know that He is near.
         The pastoral figure speaks to us not only of personal satisfaction, but of personal responsibility. We all have partly in our keeping some of the fair and precious things in other souls. We are called to be humble, lowly servants of the Good Shepherd. And surely Jesus Himself meant that we should find in this great allegory that which should teach us not only where to place our faith, but also how to do our work. Surely He meant us to find that ideal of sympathy and personal devotion, of vigilance, courage, and sacrifice, in the power of which alone we can hope to serve our needy brethren.
         The picture of the hireling shepherd is introduced just when the allegory has reached its highest point of thought and uttered its noblest message: ‘The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.’ That is the last heroism of faithfulness, the final seal of sacrifice; the unutterable, convincing tragedy of love. Suddenly our gaze is turned to another scene. We are still among the sheepfolds. Still a shepherd is keeping watch. And lo! a gaunt and hungry wolf leaps into the flock before their shepherd’s eyes. And in a moment he drops his heavy staff, wraps his long outer garment about his waist, and flees for his life. And the wolf has its cruel will of the deserted sheep. Surely Jesus sets this shameful picture of the coward shepherd fleeing like the wind and the snarl of the wolf in his ears just where He did set it—against a fair background of courage, love, and sacrifice—to warn us against unfaithfulness in life’s high task, and to teach us what manner of men we must be if we are to do that task as it should be done.
         ‘The hireling flees because he is a hireling.’ The hireling might have said that it was hardly fair to judge him by one weak moment. He had looked after the flock fairly well; he had counted them morning and evening, led them to pasturage, and kept them from straying. Was this all to be forgotten in one flight from duty? The wolf came so suddenly. He had no time to think. In justice to this shamed man, in justice to the pure and dreadful truth, how much is there in this plea? Very little when you come to look into things. It is in the surprises of life that we reap the reward of character. Half the value of character building would be swept away if it were not a fact that a man is gloriously or shamefully himself in the moment when he must act without deliberation. We talk about a man rising to an occasion, but in the last deep truth of things that is a shallow and misleading phrase. No man ever rose to an occasion. If he meets the great occasion and deals with it as it should be dealt with, it is because he is living all the while on the level of that occasion.
         But let us turn from the question of the vital place that character holds in all service to the question of what kind of a character is essential to the best service. Love is at once the germ and the spirit of it. The hireling is contrasted with the Good Shepherd in that the bond between the hireling and his work was a bond of selfishness and not a bond of love. The hireling works simply for wages. He is the picture for all time of the utter incompetence of selfishness to perform the great task of life….the hireling—the man with the inadequate motive—fails his trust and his Master, and flees for his life, not knowing that in that flight every step is taking him farther away from the few things worth saving—the price of his conscience, the cleanness of his soul, the power to look in the face of the Great Shepherd.
         We have, each of us, a place in the service of the Good Shepherd—in the folds where there are so many hungry mouths to feed, so many weak souls to protect, and out in the wilderness of sorrow and sin where so many foolish and weary ones are straying. Most of us have in our partial keeping the peace and happiness and spiritual safety of a little circle we meet at hearth and board. Each of us has a place and trust in the great pastorate of life. How shall we fill it: How not fail in it? How shall we glorify its drudgeries and meet its great occasions? Whence the courage and good cheer, the patience, tenderness, and hopefulness for all these things?
         The answer to these questions is not far to seek. It is here. ‘I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down His life for His sheep.’ The symbol of our service may be the Shepherd’s crook, but the secret of our service is the Savior’s Cross. It is only by the grace of an ever-deepening communion with the eternal love of God made manifest in Christ that the hireling spirit in its most subtle forms and deep disguises can be tracked down in the inmost recesses of our nature and driven forth from the smallest detail of our service…no man may be sure that he will not some day prove himself a hireling spirit unless for him the cup of life has become the cup of a sacrament, even, to use the great words of Ignatius, ‘the blood of Christ which is immortal love.

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