Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The hired hand

I've written about this before. This passage and its meanings have been on my mind quite a bit, lately.

The Gospel of John 10:1-8 describes the true shepherd versus the hired man. Jesus is the good shepherd who loves and protects his sheep.

"I have come so that they may have life and have it to the full. I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep. The hired man, since he is not the shepherd and the sheep do not belong to him, abandons the sheep as soon as he sees a wolf coming, and runs away, and then the wolf attacks and scatters the sheep; he runs away because he is only a hired man and has no concern for the sheep."

The metaphor of the shepherd is perhaps the most meaningful one in the Bible, and perhaps the most beautiful in all literature. The shepherd is the one who guides and protects, who literally lays himself down at the sheep gate to protect his flock from nighttime predators. The good shepherd is the one who clears rocks to provide a green meadow full of life sustaining food for his flock. The good shepherd is the one who cleanses harmful parasites from his sheep, literally anointing their heads with oil.

The good shepherd is the one who speaks to his sheep, and sings to them, so they recognize his voice out of all the other voices, and follow him to safety.

The good shepherd is the one who does not leave even the least one behind, but carries him close to his heart.

I love my Shepherd.

Contrast this image of the shepherd to the hired hand, the one to whom sheep are sheep. They're not too smart, but they're a source of income. The hired hand counts them as nothing compared to his own needs and wants.

The role of the bishop is modeled on the role of the good shepherd.

The good shepherd does not trust a man with his flock because the man says the things the shepherd wants to hear, or because the man promises the shepherd a good job working for the hired man's boss. The good shepherd doesn't turn his flock over to anyone who would treat his sheep carelessly, or abandon in the wilderness any of the sheep the hired hand perceives to have a blemish.

Angry sheep

I'm just a sheep, but I know who cares and who doesn't care about me. I don't want a hired hand looking after me.

Most of the time, I'm a nice little sheep. But don't try herding me into any foreign corral, where the hired hands won't take care of me, and might even kick me.

I'm just a sheep, but I can scream loudly, and I have teeth. I'll chew through the rope holding the corral gate shut.


Lisa said...

Another marvelous piece of writing, UnSaintly Pat. Just remember: there are indeed some very good shepherds and friends determined to make sure you don't get turned over to some hired hand.

By the way, is it really true that shepherds would anoint the sheep's head with oil? I never heard that. I believe you. But it does put another, deeper wrinkle on the anointing we do in church.

Saint Pat said...

Hi, Lisa! Thanks.

Yes, olive oil was used for many purposes, including as a salve/unguent, for cleansing wounds and to promote healing.

Sheep were afflicted with parasites and flies that would deposit their eggs in the skin on the sheep's head. The resulting itch could drive the sheep mad, and shepherds would clean the parsasites from their sheep with olive oil - literally, anointing their heads with oil.

Using olive oil to anoint for healing and blessing is a very ancient tradition. I carry a vial of priestly-blessed olive oil with me, and use it when it seems appropriate. It's wonderful to see peace, healing, renewed strength and confidence appear on a sick or hurting person's face, as a result of the combination of prayer and anointing.

Remember, the 23rd Psalm, "The Lord is My Shepherd; I shall not want ... Thou anointest my head with oil ..."

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