Emmitsburg Council of Churches


 The Holy Gospel according to St. John 10:11-18

"I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 10:12 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. 10:13 The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep.

10:14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 10:15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. 10:16 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. 10:17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. 10:18 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."

This is the Gospel of the Lord . . . Praise to you O Christ.

Christ's Hired Hands

"He comes to us as One unknown, without a name, as of old, by the lake-side, he came to those men who knew him not. "He speaks to us the same word "Follow thou me!" and sets us to the tasks which he has to fulfill for our time. He commands. And to those who obey him, whether they be wise or simple, he will reveal himself in the toils, the conflicts, the sufferings which they shall pass through in his fellowship, and as an ineffable mystery, they shall learn in their own experience Who he is."

-- Albert Schweitzer

I would like to spend a little bit of time this morning discussing the character of the "Hired Hand" that Jesus refers to in today's gospel passage. As you all know, I almost always reference our need to be servants and ministers to others -- those whom we come across in the everyday arena of life. So today's emphasis about the Hired Hand who is left in charge of the Sheep kind of strikes a cord for me. Jesus refers to his followers as the ones who ought to be tenderhearted and concerned about their individual areas of responsibility. In other words–We need to view ourselves as Hired Hands of the Lord.

And therefore, the question comes back to us as to whether or not we are doing a good job of tending the sheep in our fold. Or a good job of stewarding whatever responsibilities have been entrusted to us.

Many of us have been in a work or school situation where we are called upon to perform some task or follow through with an area of responsibility. The very nature of responsibility entails a kind of trust being placed upon us.

When the boss at work asks (or tells!) You to "go and clean up that mess over there" or to prepare a report about the project just completed or to design a new flow chart that shows how upper management relates to lower management or that we are to go and check on a certain client or patient in bed number 3 or to "repair the rear left tire on that Pontiac . . . ." When such an order or request is made of us, it is expected that we will carry out this task in a proficient manner. In the work setting, we are rewarded financially for accomplishing the tasks assigned to us. A benefits package may also serve as a motivating factor -- "a days work for a days wages."

There are also even more important than material rewards such as verbal recognition or public affirmation that we have accomplished what was asked of us in a proficient manner or with exceptional speed or "under budget!" In a healthy work setting – appreciation is shown to employees–"hired hands" who prove themselves as worthy and faithful stewards of their area(s) of responsibility. *Please note, if you are an employer–a little bit of genuine appreciation and affirmation of your employees (when they do good work!) goes a long way in creating good will.

The VALUE of showing Gratitude and Appreciation for a job well done, even for the most menial task can never be over-estimated.

However, when we are called upon to do something, as in a work setting, or even if you are a student–it cannot always be anticipated that you will be rewarded with personal affirmation–but that you are expected to perform the task -- because that is your job . . . or you are expected to complete an assignment, because you are a student.

In a negative sense--there could be consequences, i.e., if you don't do your job–you may get fired or if you do not complete an assignment at school you may fail a class. Perhaps in both settings or at any age–generally, if we do not do what we are asked to do (unless it is something immoral or dangerous) we miss out on an opportunity that might benefit ourselves or someone else.

Sometimes we may find ourselves in a situation where we are willing to work and complete a task but another person, with whom we must work, does not approach the task with a willing attitude. In such situations the other person may be like the uncaring/unwilling "Hired Shepherd," that Jesus is speaking of. Although he or she has been given the title of a shepherd, this person does not really care about their job. Having accepted a position of responsibility from the owner of the sheep–the worker has been entitled with a role – that of being a shepherd, but if such an employee is uncaring or unwilling to carry out his or her duties as a shepherd of the flock or a steward over someone else's property ----

Then we might say that such a person is insincere or does not really have their heart in the role to which they have placed themselves. They are like the hired shepherd who does not own the sheep (or business), and therefore they do not accept any personal stake in the stewarding of the flock or the company. Such a shepherd or employee allows corruption or intrusion or sloppy work – because they don't have a caring outlook on their role.

And so begins a painful process wherein the less-than-caring-shepherd only half-heartedly does his or her job. They offer an appearance–so that it will seem they are on the job of watching over the sheep. They might even perform a good number of the necessary tasks. But when the fields get muddy, when the rainy season comes or the hot humidity or the burning sun causes the job to become a hardship–as when the wolf or tiger or bear appears . . . these half-hearted shepherds become scarce. Their labor and protection of the investment entrusted to them becomes negligible or non-existent. Thus, the work load on the caring shepherds is increased or doubled. The flock is endangered and the owner of the sheep is being essentially cheated of his trust in this shepherd employee.

Note that in this example, it is not just that the owner of the sheep who is being robbed of the wage that is paid to this employee. But more importantly, the Sheep, the owners property, is endangered!! A further loss is suffered when the fellow employees begin to feel resentful about the half-hearted shepherd who does not contribute a reasonable share of energy or passion over the stewardship of the sheep!

If we think of this scenario in terms of students working on a project together at school–the insincere student makes all of the group look bad in front of the class. Of course, many times, in a classroom/learning environment, the wise teacher offers the group project learning experience with an eye toward the very nature of the group dynamic. What will the more sincere students do when the less-than-sincere-students don't contribute their fair share to the project??

Here is yet another dynamic that challenges us. . .

Will we allow resentment and envy to build in our hearts and minds over the less-than-sincere-workers' slothfulness or unwillingness to work as hard as we do in The Master's Vineyard?? Or will we be mature enough or wise, and keep right on doing our job–assigned to us–without bitterness or complaint??

Will we be faithful to God even when others are not??

I know a young man -- who found himself in a position like this.

Andrew used to rent a room from us when we had the house down in Virginia. Andrew was a very bright and hard working person who associated his Christian Faith with being a good and loyal employee wherever it was that he might go to work. He felt that a healthy work ethic, honesty and integrity made a good witness to his Christian faith.

And so, when Andrew went to work for the Electrical Union . . . he came up against some challenges as he practiced his faith in the workplace. One of the challenges came as some of the men did not take it well that Andrew was such a good example of hard work, caring, and integrity. He was making others look bad, because he would work so hard! No matter the task–whether is was working in a muddy hole or out in the sticky humidity of a hot August Day, Andrew did his work cheerfully -- without complaining.

On several occasions Andrew relayed to me that there were some guys on his shift that asked him to "slow down" . . . so that the job would not get done too quickly–and then everyone could get more hours or overtime pay before the week was out." This put Andrew into a difficult position, was he going to "go with the flow" of some of the other men?

Or was he going to abide by a higher principle that was hidden in Andrew's heart.

Andrew knew that God would witness whatever decision he made . . . Andrew chose to remain faithful to God and to continue his "normal pace."

He would not go along with the men who were trying to manipulate the work situation to suit their own greed. However, Andrew did not feel a need to criticize the others for their inefficiency since he was not in an authoritative position over them. But, by his sincerity and silent witness over time – he would show himself to be a leader in the group. In fact, some of the older men and supervisors took to calling him "Smiley," because Andrew did always smile and do his work to the glory of God . . . and over time, he won many of his fellow employees over to following Jesus . . . .

Andrew had been lead by the Master. Andrew felt the guidance of Jesus' Shepherd's crook–the Holy Spirit, leading him to be the best witness possible for the Christian faith. He did not allow spiritual Pride to get in the way– even when some of his fellow employees tried to cause him trouble. Andrew in a gentle way, led others by example.

Jesus calls to us to become his hired hands–working for and in the kingdom of God. We are each called to be shepherds of one another and to the "Others" to whom Jesus places into our flocks. Some of the "others" will be the very ones we would rather not associate with, or they might speak a foreign language–they might even have a different religion! But Jesus wants us to not be like the hired shepherds in the story he tells who don't have their Master's best interests at heart. But instead we are called to be like the Good Shepherd, Jesus our Lord. Who lays down his own life for the sheep. He is gentle, loving, patient and kind as he leads us. We must emulate his ways as we lead others. Amen

Let us Pray

Lord Jesus, You are the great Shepherd of the Sheep. With your Gentle Ways you bring us into the fold, your Church. So, let us walk with you and learn from you as you teach us how to love ourselves and others. May we become leaders of those whom you place into out lives and may we learn how to love even the unlovable . . . as you have first loved us.


Read more writings of Pastor Jon