In 2005, townspeople in Gevas, Turkey, watched in horror as one sheep jumped to its death, and then 1,500 others followed over the same cliff. When the villagers, whose livelihoods depended on the flock, reached the bottom of the mountain, they found a billowy white pile of death. Some 450 sheep were lost, but amazingly 1,000 survived. As the pile grew, the dead bodies cushioned the fall of other sheep.
How did this accident happen? The shepherds responsible for protecting the flock had left the sheep on the mountain to eat breakfast, and then the fleeces started to fly.
The importance of a shepherd is inversely proportional to the intelligence of the animal being shepherded. Dogs, for example, manage to survive fairly well without human oversight. Dolphins do even better. Sheep, on the other hand, don't have the good sense not to jump off a cliff. They need a shepherd to survive.
The fact that Scripture compares God's people to sheep ought to humble us. We need godly shepherds to lead, feed, and protect us from the world and from ourselves. We are irrefutably sinful (and often stupid) creatures willing to throw ourselves off cliffs of self-destruction. This truth, however, can tempt shepherds to overstep their role. Sometimes the most difficult part about pastoral ministry is knowing what is not our responsibility.
After the Resurrection, Jesus restores Peter and tells him three times to "feed" or "tend" his sheep and concludes with an allusion to his eventual martyrdom. Peter seems less than thrilled with this assignment, because he immediately asks Jesus about John's calling. The Lord rebukes him, "If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?" (John 21:22).
We see Peter's temptation to overstep his role. He wants to know, and perhaps influence, John's calling. But Jesus makes it clear that determining John's calling is not Peter's responsibility. Essentially Jesus says, "You feed. You tend. You do not call. That is my prerogative. You are the servant; ...