The idea of shepherding sheep was familiar to first century Israel. It was a time-consuming, sometimes labor-intensive, sometimes hazardous, serving work. Sheep had to be led (and sometimes carried when injured or too young to keep up), watched (for straying, disease, predators), defended (lion, bear, wolf, jackal, even an eagle could be a threat to the young) watered and fed (sometimes shepherds dug wells, dammed up streams, provided buckets of water and grain), doctored and nursed (disease, wounds, cuts and scrapes). Shepherding, if done right, was demanding work.
However, as with any occupation (doctor, lawyer, nurse, politician, preacher, teacher, coach, accountant, plumber, carpenter, janitor, grocer, babysitter, etc.) there are those who care, and those who don’t. There are those who do their best, and those who simply fill a position.
Jesus wants us to know how much he cares for us. He says, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives his life for the sheep… I lay down my life for the sheep” (John 10:11, 15). The idea is of a shepherd who hazards his life caring for the sheep. Matthew Henry commented, “It is the property of every good shepherd to hazard and expose his life for the sheep” (Vol. 5, p. 832). Jacob did (Genesis 31:40). David did (1 Samuel 17:34-35). Jesus is of like spirit. He cares for us, laying down his life for us.
In counter-distinction, not all religious leaders were (are) of the same character. Jesus speaks of hirelings. He says, “A hireling … sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf catches the sheep and scatters them. The hireling flees because he is a hireling and does not care about the sheep” (John 10:12-13). Dub McClish has wisely remarked, “Not all hired men are hirelings. Some have genuine concern for others and for doing their work well. However, the hireling’s motive is wholly selfish and mercenary, having no genuine care for the sheep” (The Eighteenth Annual Denton Lectures, p. 377). This is true. Jacob was hired (Genesis 29:15; 31:7, 41). Yet, he cared for the sheep. The sheep did not belong to David, but his father (1 Samuel 17:34-ff). Yet, David cared. It is true that the church doesn’t belong to the elders (1 Peter 5:1-4), and it is true that some elders are paid (1 Timothy 5:17-18). However, such does not make them hirelings. Some genuinely care. Rick Brumback has remarked, “Preachers who fill ‘position’ simply for pay or prestige, or who will not represent the entirety of Heaven’s truth for fear of recrimination (vv. 26-27), are also ‘hirelings’ . Such are likely to flee at the first sign of danger or controversy, unwilling to stand and face the threat in protection of the flock. The hirelings do not have the welfare of the sheep as their ultimate concern. How different is Jesus as the good shepherd…” (ibid, p. 204).
Furthermore, Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd, and I know my sheep, and am known by My own” (John 10:14). He knows us. He is aware of even the number of hairs on our head (Matthew 10:30; Luke 12:7). This is another indication of his love and care for us.
Jesus mentions “other sheep” (John 10:16). While he was on earth, he and his disciples labored with “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 10:6; 15:24). These are distinguished from the Samaritans and the gentiles (Matthew 10:5-6). However, Jesus’ care is for all of humanity (Matt. 28:18-ff; Mark 16:15-ff). He calls all into one flock (John 10:16; cf. Ephesians 2:16-17; Galatians 3:28; Colossians 3:11). Are you following the voice of The Good Shepherd?