Like the evil shepherds of Ezekiel’s day, the digital hireling feeds himself, doesn’t truly care about the sick, weak, or injured, doesn’t seek the lost and wandering, and deals harshly with the sheep. The digital hireling opportunistically sets up himself up for self-aggrandizement and financial gain. Most digital hirelings have never spent one day of their lives shepherding the flock of Jesus.
In John 10, Jesus contrasted two diametrically opposed religious leaders–the Good Shepherd and the hirelings. He was, of course, referring to Himself under the figure of the Good Shepherd and the Pharisees, Scribes, and Chief Priests under the figure of the hirelings. Using figurative speech, Jesus explained that the Good Shepherd calls His own by name (v. 3), goes before them (v. 4), gives abundant life to His own (v. 10), lays down His life for them (v. 11), knows His own (v. 14), and unifies His own in one fold (v. 16). By way of contrast, a hireling simply works for money (v. 12), does not have a loving relationship with the sheep (v. 12), does not protect the sheep from imminent danger (v. 12), and ultimately allows the sheep to be scattered (v. 12). Jesus was drawing off of the language of Ezekiel where God had brought a scathing indictment against the religious leaders in the prophet’s day. He said of them,
“Ah, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not 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. My sheep were scattered; they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. My sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with none to search or seek for them” (Ez. 34:3–6).
Evil shepherds and hirelings feed themselves; they don’t care about the spiritually weak, sick, or injured; they don’t seek the lost and wandering; they deal harshly with the sheep. When they see the evil one coming, they leave the sheep to fend for themselves. The end result is that the sheep are scattered. While there are more than enough evil shepherds serving in congregations across the face of the earth, I wonder whether or not we have given adequate consideration to the way in which this figure of speech aptly applies to the multitude of opportunistic digital hirelings in our day.