THE GOOD SHEPHERD
Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24
Christ the King Sunday
Analysis by Cathy Lessmann
11For thus 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.16I 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.
23I 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.
DIAGNOSIS: Sheep Acting Like Goats
Step 1: Initial Diagnosis (External Problem) : Sheep Behaving Badly
The sheepfold is a mess: sheep just aren’t behaving as sheep should. The stronger ones are butting and battering and scattering the weaker ones “far and wide” (v. 21). These stronger ones (confusedly called “shepherds” but meaning, those given authority) have ruled with “force and harshness” to benefit themselves. They have “ravaged” the flock (v. 22), they’re acting like goats. Our modern-day “ravaging” might not be as blatant as those dastardly Israelite “shepherds” appeared to Ezekiel, but who questions that such ravaging still isn’t going on, in fact, on a much grander scale. Think of the environmental ravaging, the emotional ravaging, the political ravaging, the economic ravaging, the religious ravaging (and so on), that we blithely wreak on our world and each other.
Step 2: Advanced Diagnosis (Internal Problem) : Goats
The heart of the problem lies in the fact that many sheep are not content to live their God-given identities. Rather than accept and revel in their identities—sheep dependent on the shepherd, they depend on their actions and declare independence from their shepherd. Usurping his authority, they prove that they have morphed into stubborn goats. True, it is sometimes difficult, at least for us, to differentiate between sheep and goats, but not for the Shepherd. He knows on whom it is we depend.
Step 3: Final Diagnosis (Eternal Problem) : Getting Justice
Who among us cannot now shudder with terror, knowing that in our heart of hearts, we too have rejected God’s shepherding, we too have usurped his authority (with our own), we too have become dastardly “shepherds” guilty of butting and ravaging. We too have become goats! The end result: “Therefore, I will judge between sheep and sheep…the fat and the strong I will destroy” (v. 18). Destruction. Plainly and simply, goats will be excluded from the flock; they won’t get to enjoy the benefits of the sheepfold.
PROGNOSIS: Restored to the Sheepfold
Step 4: Initial Prognosis (Eternal Solution) : The Good Shepherd—in the Flesh
But here, God promises not just justice, but mercy. He promises he will be THE Good Shepherd not just for the people of the Israel, but for all people of the world, not just for tormented sheep, but even for despicable goats! Ezekiel would probably have been flabbergasted had he lived long enough to observe how God ended up keeping this Promise. He probably would never have guessed the form in which God’s “one servant, David” finally did appear, as the carpenter Jesus of Nazareth. He would have been humbled to watch this Jesus, the Good Shepherd incarnate, achieve justice for all by laying down his ownlife, taking the blows for everyone’s imminent destruction upon himself, thus flinging wide the sheepfold gate to one and all.
Step 5: Advanced Prognosis (Internal Solution) : Trusting the Good Shepherd
The Good Shepherd invites sheep and goats alike to turn around (repent) and come enjoy his expansive sheepfold. Who can resist such a merciful offer? Who would not gladly renounce one’s rebellion, even though it involves dying to that rebellious self, and become once more what one was meant to be, a Good-Shepherd-dependent sheep?
Step 6: Final Prognosis (External Solution) : Following the Good Shepherd
With insides made new, former despicable “shepherds” and transformed goats alike, begin to act like their Shepherd, that is, they duplicate his acts of mercy, love and justice. When they are in positions of authority, they tend and care for the weaker of the flock. When they see injustice they work to rectify it, even if it involves their destruction. That’s what good shepherds do, after all.