“I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” (John 10:11)
Most of us have never been around sheep, nor would we think of ourselves as shepherds. We may view the analogy appropriate for pastors or bishops, but not for ourselves.
Yet, many of us are responsible for members of our families, employees who may work for us, customers whom we serve, or even friends who may have an expectation of support. As the good shepherd, Jesus distinguished himself from the hired hand who abandons the sheep when the wolf comes because the sheep are not his and he does not really care for them. (John 10:12)
Let me share a story of John, a county prosecutor from Duluth, Minnesota to illustrate how we can be good shepherds. In one of his early cases, he was surprised to discover that the defendant he was prosecuting was a former high school friend, Jim. Over the next 26 years Jim would be prosecuted a dozen times for theft-related crimes to support a chemical dependency.
During what turned out to be Jim’s last prosecution, he learned that he was terminally ill with sclerosis of the liver. His lawyer arranged for him to be assigned to a hospice. Jim asked his lawyer to let John know about his condition and to request his prayers.
Over the next six months John did more than just pray for Jim. He visited him two or more times a week. They reminisced about growing up in the 1950s and talked about their favorite baseball players. They also read the Bible together. That fall, Jim repented of his sins and surrendered his life to Jesus Christ. He died in November. “Jim loved reading and praying the psalms,” said John. “God used Jim to teach me about acceptance of suffering and perseverance. He showed me that it’s never too late to say yes to the Lord, no matter what we have done.
John concludes, “Because God answers prayers, Jim said, ‘yes’ to Christ before he died, and I know he is in paradise today – just like another thief who died on the cross next to Jesus 2000 years ago.”
John was a good shepherd of his responsibilities as a prosecutor, and to even the people he prosecuted. Before every trial, John says, “I pray for the truth to be known, for a just result, and that everyone involved would come to know Christ.” John sacrificed his time in supporting Jim and leading him to Christ before he died. He did not run like a “hired hand” in the face of a challenge as Jesus mentioned with the wolf. He persevered in going after a lost sheep in the person of his high school friend, Jim. He was faithful until he brought him home to the Father, just like “the good shepherd [who] lays down his life for his sheep.”
Are you a good shepherd of the people and responsibilities entrusted to you?