The Shepherd and the HirelingFr. Barnabas Powell
If you’ve ever hired a babysitter, then you know that sinking feeling any new parent has when they leave their child with someone new. In fact, there was a recent story in them paper about a family whose pet dog started growling and barking at the babysitter the family used to watch their infant child.
Whenever the babysitter would come to sit with the baby the dog acted very aggressive toward her. This really sparked the concern of the parents so they hid a recording smartphone in the couch the next time the babysitter came over and they heard the babysitter slapping the child until the cries turn to that awful painful cry when a child is hurt.
They turned it over to the police and the babysitter was arrested for abuse.
Thanks to the family pet, the parents discovered the babysitter was hurting their child. Good boy! I bet the parents let the dog pick the next babysitter!
But that is the way of things when the person you give responsibility to thinks of themselves as an employee rather than a steward of a trust.
It’s exactly the point our Lord makes in today’s Gospel Lesson. He teaches “I am the door; if any one enters by me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hireling and not a shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, 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 cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd; I know my own and my own know me, as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep, that are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will heed my voice. So there shall be one flock, one shepherd.”
Jesus makes it clear that the difference between an authentic shepherd and a mere hireling is the care each has for the sheep. The shepherd lays his life down for the sheep, but the hireling abandons the sheep at the first sign of trouble.
On the feastday of St. John Chrysostom, that great and mighty preacher of the 4th Century and Patriarch of Constantinople, we hear this Gospel Lesson specifically because St. John proved himself a true shepherd and not merely a hireling. Even though he was abused and mistreated as the head of the Church of Constantinople, and even though he was exiled because he refused to subject the people of God to heresy and poor piety, even from the Empress of the Roman Empire, he refused to take lightly his responsibility as a true shepherd following the True Shepherd Christ. St. John proved that threats and even persecution would not lessen his protection of the “flock of God” entrusted to his care.
Its also the reason today that a mere corporate model of the church will never be able to bring the faithful believers to true spiritual maturity. Church leaders reduced to employees or, worse yet, mere CEO’s of religious “franchises” will always prove to be hirelings when trouble comes to the flock. These inadequate visions of true Christian leadership simply cannot protect the flock and keep it together.
There is a fundamental and foundational reason the normal history of the Christian Church has her pastors and priests and bishops referred to as “father.” It is because only that model of leadership is full enough and big enough and serious enough to drive the point home of the responsibility given to those ordained to serve the flock of God. Only true “fathers” who get their understanding of their calling, their role, their ministry, from the only Eternal Father humanity will ever have, will ever endure the hardships of serving the Church and stay in the fight to protect the “flock” from all dangers both external and internal.
And, dear one, make no mistake, that’s the kind of pastor each of us truly need if we ever hope to come to the spiritual maturity we each were meant to have in our lives.
So, today, thank God for shepherds that live like and strive to be like the True Shepherd, and who pray to never fall into the trap of a mere hireling. Thank God for “fathers” who understand that their fatherhood flows not from themselves or their talents but from the only True Father humanity has – God, the Father.
You were not meant to experience this Christian journey without being in the “flock.” It’s only the sheep that gets cut off from the flock that gets sheared! So, today, who is your spiritual “father?” Who is your shepherd that follows in the steps of the True Shepherd? And, are you learning how to follow as well as lead others? Being Orthodox on Purpose means being accountable and connected and recognizing the difference between the shepherds and the hirelings.