We have to be willing to wade into the lives of the hungry, thirsty, homeless, sick, and imprisoned, and we need to chase after sheep who wander. What does it mean for you to shepherd? And will we take seriously our responsibility to care for the lambs of God?
1 The word of the Lord came to me: 2 “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Woe to you shepherds of Israel who only take care of yourselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock?
4 You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally. 5 So they were scattered because there was no shepherd.
11 “‘For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. 12 As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness. 13 I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land.
16 I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.
Ezekiel 34:1-2, 4-5, 11-13, 16
41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
There is a lot to read above – it’s worth reading it all to get the context. God’s message for the shepherds (the leaders) of Israel is very clear. Tend the sheep or God will do it himself. There are some valuable lessons for each of us here today.
First and foremost, the blessed reality of God’s message to Ezekiel is that God cares for us sheep and our situations. Matthew 9:35-36 teaches us that “Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” God cared for us sheep so much that he sent his son to be our Good Shepherd.
God spoke through Ezekiel to say that the shepherds should care, strengthen, heal, bind up, bring back, search for, rescue, and gather the flock. His indictment on the leaders of Israel is that they were focused on themselves and not on the ministry of shepherding others.
Before you check out because you aren’t a pastor or a leader or an elder or a deacon, we might all be, in some sense of care for the lambs of God, shepherds. That’s you, Christian. If you are responsible for the walk of your brother or sister in any way (which we are), then we have a shepherding role.
Jesus took his role as the Good Shepherd seriously. He cared for every sheep, and the parable of the lost sheep tells us that Jesus will leave the 99 and go after the one that is lost (Luke 15). Not only that, Jesus expects that we will care for the sheep in the same way that he does. If we do not care for even the least of Jesus’ flock then we do not care for Jesus.
This is messy stuff. Not only does this mean that we have to be willing to wade into the lives of the hungry, thirsty, homeless, sick, and imprisoned, it also means that we need to chase the sheep that leave God and bring them back. Many of those sheep do not want to come back. Nor do they want to be told they have wandered. What does it mean for you to shepherd?
Will we take seriously our responsibility to care for the lambs of God and by doing so care for Jesus?