This is why the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own. I have power to lay it down, and power to take it up again. This command I have received from my Father."
Jesus' description of his relationship with "the Father" follows immediately after his parable of the good shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep. By their juxtaposition we understand they are connected. He is our shepherd because he lays down his life in obedience to his father.
The passage reveals -- perhaps inadvertently -- problems in the early church. Not all the shepherds were trustworthy. Some were like hired hands, ready to collect their wages, not so eager to make sacrifices, much less willing to take grave risks for the faithful. At the first sign of trouble they disappeared.
Knowing our sinful human nature, Jesus insists, "I know mine and mine know me." His disciples must be continually alert to that Spirit which identified Jesus to them. We know he is our shepherd by the spirit that whispers in our hearts. In prayer we have heard his voice; we are familiar with it. The "hired man" may appear among us, speaking familiar words and echoing familiar sentiments but we feel suspicious and uneasy in his company. "This is because he works for pay and has no concern for the sheep."
At the height of the pedophilia scandal several years ago, a psychologist assured me there is simply no psychiatric tool, standard or test known to man which can root out problem people. Every profession has its oddballs; some of them may be criminals. But others may be saints.
The people of God are terribly vulnerable; our faith renders us so. We come to our shepherds like sheep to the shearers. Without that vulnerability we cannot receive the essential grace of salvation. Which is why it would be better if the criminal pastors had a millstone chained to their necks as they were thrown into the sea.
The true shepherds enjoy astonishing freedom as they guide the flock. They can ask very personal questions and receive deeply revealing answers. The Holy Spirit gives them the right words and the wisdom to know how and when to speak. They are certainly aware of the sinful opportunities to exploit but they are no more inclined to grab at them than they are to commit suicide. These shepherds follow the Lamb wherever he goes; they are guided in their desires, ambitions and hopes by the Spirit which the Father gives them.
The Acts of the Apostles describes that amazing freedom with stories of Peter, John, Barnabas and Paul. Perhaps they loved their homes in Galilee and their shrine in Jerusalem but they were driven by the Spirit to go to Caesarea and Joppa and Rome. Few would ever see their homes again as they announced the Gospel to the whole world, and they would have it no other way.