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“Of Hired Hands and ‘Good Shepherds’”

April 21, 2024 Preacher: Minister Thomas Houston

Scripture: John 10:11–18

April 21, 2024 Fourth Sunday of Easter The text is John 10:11-18.


[Jesus said:] 11“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12The 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. 13The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. 14I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. 16I 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. 17For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. 18No 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.”


May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to You, O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.

Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God the Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

The Fourth Sunday of Easter is always “Good Shepherd Sunday” in the church’s liturgical calendar.  And in the three-year cycle of Scripture readings, the gospel passage for this Sunday is always from the 10th chapter of John.  Last year was “Year A” in the cycle and the verses from the 10th chapter of John were 1-10.  The central focus of these verses is Jesus noting that those who believe in him recognize his voice and follow him.  He states “I am the gate” which protects his sheep and he is also the door through which they must pass to enter into his fold.  


Next year will be the return to “Year C” and verses 22-30 will be featured.  In these, Jesus states “My sheep listen to my voice”  And “I know them and they follow me”.

Returning to the present, we are now in “Year B” of the lectionary and we have just heard verses 11-18.  In these, Jesus proclaims, “I am the good shepherd”, and he explains what all this means for his sheep, his followers, his disciples, …and us.  But before we expand on our understanding of Jesus as The Good Shepherd, it might be best of we review what happened in chapter 9 of John’s gospel.  This may give us some insight as to what prompted Jesus to proclaim himself as shepherd to his people.

Just before Jesus makes his proclamation as the one who calls his followers to him, cares for, and protects them, he has miraculously given sight to a man who was born blind.  You may recall that in this story Jesus made mud using his saliva, applied it to the man’s eyes and instructed him to wash in the Pool of Siloam.  And immediately the man obtained the ability to see.  Much controversy resulted from this healing, including the man’s parents distancing themselves from him to avoid conflict with the Pharisees.  Already unhappy with much of what Jesus had been preaching and teaching, this healing of the blind man caused great hostility among the religious authorities.  Not only did Jesus perform a miracle, something that it was believed only God was capable of doing, but he did so on the Sabbath.  The Pharisees are doubly incensed.  They expel the now sighted man from the synagogue, effectively cutting him off from the community. 

Jesus sought out the man whose sight was given to him, and he expressed his faith in Jesus, thus being accepted into the community that includes all of Christ’s followers.  Jesus states that he has come into the world “so that the blind will see”.  Some of the Pharisees take umbrage at this and ask if Jesus is accusing them of spiritual blindness.  And it is in response to this query that Jesus takes the opportunity to expound upon his role as the Good Shepherd; and this morning we listen in as he directs his remarks squarely at the religious authorities who condemned him for bringing the newly seeing man into the fold of his followers. 

And, since the words “sheep” or “shepherd” appear 76 times in the bible, Jesus chooses the profession of shepherd as the example for how he has assumed responsibility for the lost sheep of the world.  This is a metaphor his listeners would be familiar with and would serve as a very impactful description of his relationship with those he has come to serve, to call to himself, to redeem.  The other main occupations in biblical times were fisherman and farmer.  The words “fish” or “fisherman” appear in Scripture 17 times; “farm” or “farmer”, 31 times.  But, far and away, the most often referenced occupation is that of shepherd.

Thus, when Jesus speaks in allegories that refer to shepherds and their flocks, his listeners; the crowds, the blind man given sight, and the Pharisees would have been quite familiar with all that sheepherding entails.  In our modern world though, the concept of the shepherd and his responsibilities to his flock might be not so readily apparent.  In biblical times the owner of a flock might assume the role of hands-on sheepherder. The alternative would have been to combine your flock with other groups of sheep, all of them under the direction of a third-party employee; the so-called “hired hand”.  In his castigation of the Pharisees this  morning Jesus explains the difference between a “good shepherd” who assumes beloved responsibility for his personal flock versus this “hired hand” who might not be deeply invested in the well-being of the sheep he oversees.  For this jointly hired employee, the care and concern of the several flocks he herds might not be his overriding purpose; he is likely in it just for the paycheck.  It’s his job, and possibly not his mission in life.

He may choose to move on and act as a seasonal shepherd for another flock in another town.  Jesus, as the “good shepherd” is fully committed to the welfare of his flock, in this life and the one to come.  He is willing to give up his life for his flock, for his sheep, for us.  Jesus proclaims that he knows his followers intimately as his own and that his own know him, in just the same way as the Father knows Jesus and Jesus knows the Father.  The sheep hear Jesus’ voice, and they race to be gathered up into his arms in confidence and trust that they will be cared for.  We recognize Jesus as our Good Shepherd, the One willing to lay down his life for us, his flock.

And by giving up his life for us he assures that we are included in his flock.  He has called us and we answer to his voice; we are protected, forgiven, and saved.  But Jesus’ role as Good Shepherd isn’t confined to the flock that he has already called as his own.  In verse 16 of John’s gospel, Jesus proclaims, “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 “.  And if some of the current “sheep”, those already in the fold presume that their judgement has any bearing on whom Jesus calls, that’s when the trouble is likely to start.  The “good shepherd” himself decides which sheep he will call to answer to his voice; and often not everyone is pleased with Christ’s choices.  If everyone remembered that it is the shepherd who calls the sheep, the world wouldn’t be in the desperate shape we find it in.

But for those gathered here…well, we know that it’s not up to the sheep; Jesus has made that abundantly clear.  Those of us who already respond to the Good Shepherd’s voice acknowledge that it is only through the blessing of the Holy Spirit that we have been called to be included in Christ’s flock.  The “Good Shepherd’s” message calls us to accept, welcome, and affirm all who Jesus sends to be among us.  When we reach out beyond our walls, in service of those in need, that is when we are letting the world know that we are the “hired hands”.  Our duty, our calling is to proclaim the message that the “Good Shepherd” promises; we do this through our faith, our witness, our servanthood to others.  Just as Jesus has welcomed us into his flock, it is our calling to seek out those who have not yet come to know Jesus’ voice, and ensure they know the way into the fold, and that we welcome them as Christ welcomes us. 

Will you pray with me?  Good, and gracious, and holy God, it is Jesus’ mission to bring all the world into his fold.  It is the will of Christ that there be “one flock, one shepherd”.  We pray that you will guide and inspire us to be among those who actively reach out to the ones Jesus is seeking; and that within this fold they also may listen for the voice of Christ.  And we pray these things in the name of the risen Jesus, the One who is the “Good Shepherd”.


God is Good, all the time.  All the time, God is GoodAmen.