Ezekiel 34:11-16,20-24 God the true shepherd
11Thus says the Lord God: ‘I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. 12As shepherds seek out their flocks when they are among their scattered sheep, so I will seek out my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. 13I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land; and I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the watercourses, and in all the inhabited parts of the land. 14I will feed them with good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel shall be their pasture; there they shall lie down in good grazing land, and they shall feed on rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. 15I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down’, says the Lord God. 16‘I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice.’
20Therefore, thus says the Lord God to them: ‘I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. 21Because you pushed with flank and shoulder, and butted at all the weak animals with your horns until you scattered them far and wide, 22I will save my flock, and they shall no longer be ravaged; and I will judge between sheep and sheep.’
23‘I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd, 24and I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them; I, the Lord, have spoken.’
Text ©The New Revised Standard Version, alt, Used with permission.
Just listen to the righteous anger! The religious leaders of the day had been so inept, and drawn the people’s focus away from God’s message, that He wasn’t prepared to send another messenger for them to ignore or kill. God would seek out the lost sheep Himself.
The so-called shepherds of the flock were more like the hirelings to which Jesus referred (John 10:12), because they had let the sheep wander and get lost, and they didn’t seem concerned.
Through Ezekiel God told the people, and especially the religious leaders, that the sheep would be sought in ALL the places to which they had been scattered. They would be looked after and fed appropriately, instead of being fed rubbish or left to starve. God would do the shepherding because those charged with the job had failed so miserably. Those who should have known better are accused of pushing and shoving the flock and driving them away. No wonder God was angry!
When we think of some of the gospel stories we can see the same righteous anger, and for the same reasons. Jesus didn’t just drive the money-changers out of the Temple; He effectively drove out those who had corrupted the people for their own benefit, power and prestige.
Have we learned anything? No way!! Do we need to be reminded about politicians who don’t like election results, or those who are blind to the risks of Covid-19, or don’t think of what can be achieved by supporting less polluting industries? Do we need to be reminded about churches which are more interested in protecting their images than addressing serious issues of misconduct and subtle abuse, or churches that profess to be pastorally caring when the evidence says much to the contrary? Please don’t misunderstand me: there are plenty of people in churches working hard for the good of the community and being thwarted by those higher up the power chain who say it shouldn’t be done.
Bishop Jack Spong raised an interesting point about focus on status in the churches. When someone is ordained he/she is called “Reverend” – the revered one; when that person is made Dean of a cathedral the title becomes “The Very Reverend”; a bishop is “The Right Reverend”; and an Archbishop is “The Most Reverend”; the Pope is “His Holiness” and the head of the Greek Orthodox Church is “His All Holiness”. Do any of these go out to meet the down-and-outs in mufty – civilian clothes that make them look just like everyone else around them – like Jesus did when he washed the disciples’ feet at the Last Supper? I know of one Australian bishop who did, and it changed him for ever. He realised how much the church over which he presided had strayed from its ways like a lost sheep without a shepherd.
So often through the scriptures we are called to repent and to re-focus on what God wants, not what we want. While the mainstream churches complain about a lack of clergy they frequently reject those called by God and who challenge the status quo. Is that because they would show up how scattered the flock is, by bringing them into the stable and teaching them to love and obey God? We are ALL called by God to spread the Good News and to be faithful shepherds, but it seems a number of those to whom leadership roles have been given are lacking the skills or focus, just as the shepherds in this passage from Ezekiel.
I would love us to be focussed on what God wants us to do, rather than keeping the whistleblowers quiet, though our scriptures, canonical and contemporary, show we still have a lot to learn from Ezekiel.