The Good Shepherd and the Bad Hireling

by The Rev. David Juhl

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit

There is no comparison between a shepherd and a hireling.  Jesus won’t allow Himself to be mentioned in the same sentence as a hireling.  The two positions are polar opposites.  A shepherd tends and defends sheep.  A hireling tends sheep but will not defend the sheep.

There lies the difference between a shepherd and a hireling.  Part of tending a flock is defending them from an enemy.  If a shepherd won’t defend sheep from an enemy, they do not deserve to be called a shepherd.  They leave the flock behind to fend for themselves.

Jesus says just after today’s Holy Gospel: My sheep hear My voice.  Now more than ever it is difficult for the sheep to hear the voice of the Good Shepherd.  There are so many hirelings who claim to speak on behalf of the Good Shepherd that the sheep don’t know whom they should listen.  There are also many other bleating noises that try to drown out the voice of the Good Shepherd.  How can you tell the difference between a hireling, a shepherd of the Good Shepherd’s flock, and all the other noises out there?

The sheep should listen to what those who tend flocks say.  See if you can guess whether or not this pastor is a shepherd or a hireling.  The pastor in question recently moved his flock to a former sports arena in a major metropolitan city.  If you visit the congregation’s website, you will see passing references to Jesus Christ, but you will also see lots and lots of pictures of the pastor and his wife, while seeing no pictures of Jesus.  You will see a “ministry” for nearly every situation in life: men, women, young children, teens, college-age, singles, single parents, married couples, even “ministries” to help you find out which “ministry” is right for you.

The pastor is a noted author who writes books about how you can better yourself.  Yes, the pastor quotes the Bible.  But does the pastor present Jesus Christ as the Savior from sin and death or as a life coach who empowers you toward better wealth and health?  Nowhere on the website do you see anything about Christ’s death and resurrection or the forgiveness of sins.  It’s all about making you a better you.

Compare that message with what you hear from this pulpit, what you hear when I visit your sickbed, or when I conduct a funeral.  You should compare what I preach with what you hear elsewhere to see whether or not your pastor proclaims the Truth of God’s Word.  The same should be said for every Christian pastor, within and without the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.  If you do not hear the Good News of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection, and how He delivers forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation through His death and resurrection on your behalf, then you are listening to a hireling bleat the siren call of self-religion.  If you do not hear a pastor preaching God’s Law in all its severity and God’s Gospel in all its sweetness, then you have not heard a Christian sermon.  You have heard a hireling tell you what you want to hear.

Other voices try to silence shepherds.  The voice of sports, hobbies, sleeping in, dining out, doing nothing, hanging out with family and friends, and the sweet, dulcet tones of rank unbelief also cry out for attention every weekend.  Some sheep know they should listen to the voice of the Good Shepherd.  But they can’t bring themselves to walk into His sheep pen.  Others think the Good Shepherd is a liar.  Still others believe the sheep pen is full of liars and hypocrites rather than real, true Christians.  Many more would rather go it alone, receiving sustenance and guarding themselves alone and away from the sheep.

We are envious of those who have hirelings for shepherds as well as those who are lost sheep and love to hide from the Good Shepherd.  They have it easy, or so we think.  They have no responsibility.  We are always under God’s thumb.  Wouldn’t it be nice to get lost one day and never return to the fold?  Wouldn’t it be nice to have a shepherd who let’s you believe what you want to believe and live however you want to live?  All pleasure, no responsibility, zero guilt, and happy days!  Ah, there’s the life!

What kind of life is death?  That’s what life without a shepherd has in store for you who wish the Good Shepherd to get lost.  What will happen when the wolf flashes his teeth your way?  Who will you call upon to save you?

King David knew.  So did Ezekiel and Peter.  So do you.  The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.  Those Words teach you to confess that you need protection from the satanic foe.  You have protection from a Shepherd Who became a sheep on your behalf.  That’s how far the Good Shepherd goes to rescue you.  The Good Shepherd takes on the form of a sheep in order to be attacked by the ravening wolf.  He is wounded and murdered so you may live.  He comes back from death to life so you may live with Him forever.  It sounds like crazy talk.  The Good Shepherd becoming like a sheep and laying down His life for the sheep.  But that’s exactly what Jesus does.  It’s exactly what a hireling won’t do.

Saint Peter writes, you were like sheep going astray, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.  We love to hear the analogy of Jesus as a Shepherd.  The imagery hits close to home. All of us get lost now and again.  The Shepherd cares so much about you when you get lost that He risks life and limb to find you.  I myself will search for My sheep and seek them out…. I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them to their own land; I will feed them…in good pasture…I will make them lie down…I will seek what was lost and bring back what was driven away…but I will destroy the fat and the strong, and feed them in judgment.

Not only will the Lord God provide for you, He will also protect you by destroying those who are fat and strong.  You can’t do this alone, even if you think you are strong enough not to need a Savior.  The Lord runs the verbs.  He alone will do these things, just as He alone has provided a Way out of sin and death for you.

Psalm 33 says, the earth is full of the steadfast love of the Lord…He is our help and our shield.  The Lord calls you out of darkness into His marvelous light (just as He does for Syri Anne today) through water and His Word in Holy Baptism.  He covers you with His blood and righteousness.  He places you in His fold forever.  He spreads a table before you in the presence of your enemies, giving you His True Body and Blood in His Holy Supper.  He puts His promise of deliverance from the enemy in your ears every Lord’s Day.  He provides, protects, and gives you a prosperous eternity not on your terms, but on His terms.

How great Christ’s love is for us.  He becomes the prey so we may escape.  When we get lost, He will find us.  It’s all in a day’s work for the Good Shepherd, Who never slumbers nor sleeps but keeps watch over His Father’s flock now and forever.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit

The Rev. David M. Juhl is Pastor of Our Savior Evangelical-Lutheran Church in Momence, IL. He is married and the father of one daughter. A man of many interests and talents, including that of radio D.J. during his college years, Pastor Juhl is also an avid blogger.

 

Created: April 6th, 2008