The Shepherd & the Hired Hand

The Shepherd & the Hired Hand (CaD Jer 23) Wayfarer

“Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture!” declares the Lord.
Jeremiah 23:1 (NIV)

A couple of weeks ago, I gave a message among my local gathering of Jesus followers in which I mentioned that things are more connected than we realize. The text of that message was Jesus’ statement, “I am the Bread of Life” and I talked about how that metaphor is connected to the entire Great Story from Genesis through Revelation. I’m preparing this week for another message this Sunday around Jesus’ statement, “I am the Gate,” and wouldn’t you know it, Jeremiah’s prophetic message in today’s chapter connects directly to Jesus’ statement made over 500 years later. I love synchronicity!

In Jeremiah’s day, God’s people were led civically by the Kings, but most of them were poor leaders as detailed in the books of 1 Kings and 2 Kings. In today’s chapter, God through Jeremiah considers the monarch to be the “shepherd” of His people, His flock. But, rather than protect, guide, and lead the flock well, God says that they scattered them, refused to care for them, and actually drove them away.

Likewise, in Jeremiah’s day, God’s people were led religiously by the priests and the prophets. There were a ton of these, by the way. If you were born a direct male descendant of Aaron (back in Moses’ day) you were a priest. Over 1000 years, the number of direct male descendants was quite large. Being a prophet was also a professional gig, and every pagan cult and idol had their prophets, as well. At the time of Jeremiah, God’s Temple in Jerusalem had become a religious bazaar, with altars and shrines to all sorts of deities along with their priests and prophets. Many of God’s priests (sons of Aaron) and prophets played both sides.

Jeremiah’s message in today’s chapter is a message specifically to these three groups of leaders: kings, priests, and prophets – who were supposed to be “good shepherds” of God’s flock, but they weren’t. God through Jeremiah declared in today’s chapter:

“Both prophet and priest are godless;
Even in my temple I find their wickedness.”

Fast forward just over 500 years and Jesus is standing before the same group of religious leaders from His own generation, and He tells them:

“Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who have come before me are thieves and robbers.”

Jesus continued:

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.”

Jesus uses the same metaphor that God used through Jeremiah in today’s chapter. The kings, prophets, and priests should have been good shepherds of the Good Shepherd, but they were nothing more than hired hands who allowed the wolf into the pasture. Jesus metaphorically accuses the descendants of those prophets and priests of being and doing the same thing. Nothing had changed.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself meditating on something I written before in these posts. Times change, technology changes, culture changes, but one thing that doesn’t change is the human condition. Fast forward 2,000 years from Jesus and here I am, preparing to stand before God’s flock in a few days to talk about these connections. The same reality faces me that faced the prophets and priests of Jeremiah’s day, of Jesus’ day. Will I be a good shepherd of the Good Shepherd, or am I just a hired hand making a buck and putting in my time?

Jude found the latter among Jesus’ followers when he wrote about those who “are blemishes at your love feasts, eating with you without the slightest qualm—shepherds who feed only themselves.”

Likewise, Peter addressed those who led Jesus’ followers in his day: “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.”

I pray that I may always shepherd well.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

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