Hired Hands – 4-16-24

You can listen to this reflection here.

In this week’s gospel reading, Jesus calls himself the good shepherd – and he makes a distinction between a shepherd and a hired hand: 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. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep.

Given the increasingly hostile encounters recorded in John’s Gospel between Jesus and the temple leadership, perhaps Jesus is likening the religious leaders of the Jewish community of his day to mere “hired hands,” not reliable guardians of the people for whom they are to care. They seem too preoccupied with their rules and their compensation. They fall away at the hint of danger (is he referring to their careful dance of collaboration with the Roman occupiers?), and fail to provide the spiritual nurture and care they should.

Jesus seems to say that only one who owns the sheep can appreciate their value enough to tend them properly. This is unsettling for me as a religious “professional” – after all, I am a “hired hand.” I think it’s important that clergy not feel ownership over their congregants, but rather see themselves as stewards on behalf of the God to whom all things belong, to tend, feed and nurture spiritual growth. Does the fact that I am financially compensated mitigate my shepherding?

Jesus might have gone further in his definitions, to distinguish between good hired hands and bad ones. A hired hand who is deeply committed to the Shepherd, whose values align with the one who owns the sheep, may be as fierce in protecting them from harm, and as dedicated to keeping the flock together and thriving, as the Shepherd himself. Such a hired hand must remain in close touch with the Shepherd on whose behalf she tends the sheep, to receive instructions about where to pasture, where to find the strays, when to lead the flock into the fold.

I strive to be such a hired hand. I hope congregations can hold their pastors to high standards of integrity and spiritual depth. If ever you wonder why we pray for clergy in Sunday services, this is one reason – so they can balance being in tune with the Shepherd with staying attuned to the wellbeing of the sheep. If your pastor is falling short, tell her. If he is nurturing the flock well, tell him.

And pay attention to what flocks you may be called to tend as a hand working for the Good Shepherd himself. He needs a lot of good hired hands, and they don’t all have to be ordained.

© Kate Heichler, 2024. To receive Water Daily by email each morning, subscribe hereHere are the bible readings for next Sunday. Water Daily is also a podcast – subscribe to it here on Apple, Spotify or your favorite podcast platform.

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