October was Clergy Appreciation Month! Did you know that? Those of us in the clergy did! Of course October is also International “Walk-to-School” month, so don’t get too excited!
Seriously, there is something powerful about appreciation. But there is something insidious about seeking appreciation. What a fine line it is to encourage the good virtue of gratefulness and acknowledging the gifts of others on one side and the ego serving self centeredness of demanding recognition. I think of this struggle every time I see a brass plaque on a donated item at the church! What is it about the subtle dangers of recognition and how do we protect ourselves against this sickness without then forgetting to properly that “thank you” to others who serve us?
Look at our Gospel Lesson today in John 10:9-16:
The Lord said, “I am the door; if any one enters by me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hireling and not a shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hireling and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd; I know my own and my own know me, as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep, that are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will heed my voice. So there shall be one flock, one shepherd.”
The Lord warns His people against the “hireling,” the one who serves God’s people only for a paycheck. Those “employees” act like merely employees and when trouble comes, they are the first to bail out. They are like the ones who only give IF they get the “proper” recognition. They don’t participate unless they know that their gift will be “properly” acknowledged. Those “givers” give with a selfish motivation, not because they believe in the project!
To boil down the wisdom in the passage that protects us from such a shallow life, look at how the Lord describes the true “shepherd” of the flock. First He calls the true shepherd “good;” and what makes the shepherd good? The true shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. So when trouble comes, this shepherd doesn’t abandon his post, but stays to protect the sheep He loves from the wolves. Next, the true shepherd “knows” His sheep. This discernment comes not from some great accomplishment but from selfless love. The true shepherd thinks of His people before He thinks of Himself. And that discernment builds confidence in the sheep so that when the true shepherd speaks; they hear Him!
What will ultimately protect our hearts from the caustic sickness of demanding recognition will only occur as we embrace the motivation, the intentions, and the perspective of the “good shepherd.” The power of being so forgetful of yourself that you are surprised when others praise you and numb when others criticize you. It is in that selfless perspective that we call others to the healthy and true honor and respect that is always good for us to bestow on the “good shepherd.” A dear priest friend of mine reminded me of some powerful wisdom when he wrote: “If you want a better priest, then pray for the one you have. Every priest carries not only the burden of his own sins, which are countless, but also the sins of everyone whom God has entrusted to his spiritual care. At the Dread Judgement Seat of Christ, priests will have much to answer for.”
Today, learn the dual wisdom of self-forgetfulness and honoring the others who serve you as a “good shepherd.” It is in the twin virtues of humility AND gratefulness that your heart will be protected from ever becoming nothing but a “hireling” expecting others to praise you for your work and failing to acknowledge others. That’s what it means to be Orthodox on Purpose!
P.S. May God grant you a blessed weekend and, if you’re in the Atlanta area this weekend, we’d love to invite you to pray with us at Sts. Raphael, Nicholas, and Irene Greek Orthodox Church. You would be most welcomed!