Saturday, August 21, 2010

Ezekiel 34: Sheep and Shepherds the Good Shepherd

From Garden to City reading:  Ezekiel 34

I don't know much about sheep.  Or shepherds.
So when I read the twenty-third psalm, I'm using my imagination to create images.  And when I hear Jesus say, "I am the good shepherd," I'm relying on his explanation of what a good shepherd does.  He lays his life down for his sheep.  He knows his sheep.  His sheep know him.

Basically, shepherds take care of their sheep.  They feed them.  They nourish them.  Protect them.  Guide them.  They'll even die for them if required.

And so this passage stands out.  It's even sort of shocking.

We read about sheep and shepherds in both the Old and New Testaments, and sometimes we're reading about actual sheep and shepherds, and sometimes, sheep and shepherds represent sometimes else entirely.

This is one of those "something else entirely" passages.

The sheep?  Israel.

And the shepherds?  The leaders responsible for caring for the people, for leading the people of Israel.  This includes spiritual and governmental leaders.

Not all shepherds are good.  The shepherds in Ezekiel 34 don't really care for the sheep.  They just want what they can get from the sheep.  Wool.  Food.  Money.

They don't go looking for them when they get lost.  They don't rescue them from lions or overflowing rivers.  They don't risk their lives for the sheep.  They're much more concerned with themselves.

And that's why Jesus says, "I am the good shepherd." (John 10:11)

And he expands the meaning of sheep, saying, "I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen" (verse 16). That's us, if we know our shepherd, if we recognize his voice and follow him.  

So if we are following Christ, we are his sheep.  And he is our shepherd.
We have other shepherds too.  Spiritual leaders.  They are responsible for caring for us, encouraging us, challenging us, rescuing us.

And although we are sheep, perhaps we are shepherds too.  We are all charged with discipling others (see Matthew 28:18-20).  And so, essentially, if we are God's sheep, we are also God's shepherds.

And here, the mixing of these metaphors gets confusing.  The sheep in Ezekiel 34 aren't all that nice to each other, pushing and shoving, some getting more than enough to eat and drink, trampling the food and muddying the water for the others.

And that's where love comes in.
We are sheep.
And we are shepherds.
And we must care for each other.

And I don't know much about sheep or shepherds, but I do know we must love one another.

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