“I feel that the greatest reward for doing is the opportunity to do more.” – Dr. Jonas Salk
“The reward for good work is: more work.” – Dilbert cartoon
Two quotes, with roughly the same meaning, and the difference between them is in the speaker’s attitude. The first is one of gratitude. The second, is grumbling.
In this morning’s Gospel, the disciples are told to come apart and rest, yet they are not given rest. They have returned from a mission trip and reported to Jesus about their experiences, and he encourages them to take a break. Yet as they arrive at their retreat, they are met by throngs of people, who have turned their quiet spot for rest into a clamoring circus of need. And instead of shooing them away, Jesus has compassion on them. So he turns to his disciples, like a good manager, and says, “you give them something to eat”.
Which quote ran through the St. Peter’s mind that day? Did the disciples grumble, reward for good work is: more work? Surely there was the temptation. Or were they still elated from the experiences of the mission trip? They’d cast out demons, healed the sick, and preached repentance in the villages. Surely, with God’s Spirit moving through them in such a mighty way, there had to be a sense among the disciples that this new mission was another opportunity for wonders and miracles.
Two attitudes to the same situation, with vastly different results. Given a spirit of gratefulness, the disciples could move forward in faith and feed 5,000 people with a handful of fish and bread. Or had they lacked such courage of spirit, 5,000 people would starve, more people would go home sick than showed up in the first place, and the reputation of the Rabbi from Nazareth would suffer.
Your attitude toward God in any given situation can be the determining factor. Are you grateful, or do you grumble? In other words, is your heart prepared to worship God through the situations He calls you to?
God has a message for you this morning, but it depends on your attitude what you will hear. In the Psalm, he will make you to lie down in green pastures and lead you beside still waters, but he will not eat the grass and drink the water for you. In the Gospel, he offers you rest, but not of the vacation-resort variety. In Jeremiah’s words, he warns you who have abandoned your job as shepherds that you will be held to account for the condition of his flock; while at the same time he encourages the faithful remnant with hope, promising to send shepherds who will not fail in their duty.
Two aspects, but one message, depending upon the who is listening. As sheep, we are called to hear the Shepherd’s voice and follow Him as he leads us through the paths of righteousness. We are to trust him even through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, for he will care for us, make us lie down in green pastures and lead us beside still waters. As shepherds ourselves, we are held to account for our performance. The duties of a shepherd are to care for and nurture the flock, to train them and aid them in their growth, and to put all things in their way which might make them fruitful and multiply.
Between every pair of ears listening to these words, right now, is a somebody who qualifies as a shepherd in God’s eyes. You are to be sheeplike in following the Good Shepherd, but you, too, are called a shepherd, and you have a duty to perform on God’s behalf! At every age and stage of life, there are those who come under your protection, who need your care, who could learn best from you and who look up to you. They follow you like sheep. At times, they are stubborn and willful and cause you all kinds of trouble – like sheep – but you will still be held to account for their welfare, for their upbringing, for their education and training.
The opportunity before you today is the same every time God speaks through His word. The question is, do you have a grateful heart that can hear it? If so, your heart is in the right place, and you will be ready to worship – to truly worship – in spirit and in truth. If you are worshipping, you will not fail in either of your responsibilities – neither as sheep, in hearing the Shepherd’s voice and following where he leads, nor as a shepherd, in following his instructions to build up and nurture those under your care. The best way to be a good shepherd is to be a good sheep, and the only way to be a good sheep is to take on the role of a shepherd. The only way to find rest is to take on the Lord’s work joyfully, with a grateful heart.