There once was a man powerful enough to own the hills, wealthy enough to fill them with sheep, and kind enough that people smiled as they tipped their hats, passing him on the road. Despite his palatial estate and distinguished visitors, his favorite afternoons were spent walking the valleys and visiting his flocks. He knew the ewes by name and each spring was known to lounge on the gently sloping hillsides long enough for the lambs to tentatively introduce themselves.
Whether through faith, pity, or folly, he entrusted his most beloved flock to the wrong sort of shepherds. One of his oldest (and blindest) ewes was found wandering through the middle of town. “Strayed,” the people supposed. A messenger found another alongside the road, alone with a broken leg. With unpracticed hands, he bound its injured limb and returned it to the man.
The man grew increasingly suspicious and concerned, but his frustration fanned into outrage when he found three lambs, simply tired, hungry, and exhausted left in a field not far from town. Without pausing to change out of his resplendent robes, he set out on the flock’s overgrazed path toward the retreating sun.
He found more of his sheep than he would have liked, wandering alone or distractedly grazing in groups of two or three. The shepherds were the harder query. He heard a howl on the wind and, unafraid for himself, was furious for his flock. As dusk settled over the landscape, he saw an orange flicker in a nearby valley and, after several minutes of silent, determined walking, found the true predators. As he stepped into the glow of their fire, he smelled slaughter and the sickening savor of their audacious dinner.
“Ah, shepherds of my flock who have been feeding yourselves!” he began. “Should not the shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat ones, but you do not feed the sheep. The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them. So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd, and they became food for all the wild beasts.”
He kicked out their fire, took back his provisions, and sent the wicked men away from his lands, into the deeper darkness. He searched for his beloved sheep all night, finding only a meager few.
Morning crept in unnoticed as he scoured the countryside, but he went hungry rather than finishing what remained of the hired hands’ morbid meal. That afternoon, his household was shocked to see him return with his robes torn and hands bloodied. When he ordered a quick, cold meal and a set of more practical clothes to continue his search, they protested:
“You don’t have time for this; hire someone who does!”
The man replied, “How else would I spend my time, when my beloved is lost?”
“This is impractical; you can buy other sheep!”
The man replied, “Who else would I want, when I my beloved are still out there?”
“Think of the rockslides and bandits and bears; send someone else!”
The man replied, “Why would I risk sickness, old age, and accidents, when I could risk my life pursuing my beloved?”
At this the household fell silent, so the man continued. “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”
The bad shepherds in Ezekiel 34 love themselves and sacrifice the sheep, but the Good Shepherd in John 10 loves the sheep and sacrifices himself. What kind of leader are you? Are you the hired hand, who lives off the sheep, or a true shepherd who would die for the sheep?
Jesus is our Good Shepherd. Any sheep we are responsible for are his sheep. We have nothing to fear in death and everything to gain in a faithful life, so love the sheep.