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? You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. You have not strengthened the weak or healed those who are ill or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally. Ezekiel 34:2-4 (NIV)
The Book of Exekiel is challenging to read and particularly to apply to your day-to-day life. The passage above from Ezekiel 34, within the context in which it was written, is clearly a warning to those who shepherd a nation; in this case Israel.
The imagery used is of a shepherd attending the sheep, but instead of looking after the flock, they take care of themselves. God accuses the shepherds of looking after their own interests, sitting in ease and comfort while the sheep are not tended. The image is one of the shepherd using the sheep for personal gain. Yet it is clear from the passage that it is not what God expects. The characteristics God looks for in a shepherd are to:
- strengthen the weak;
- heal the sick;
- bind up the injured;
- bring back the strays;
- search for the lost.
Jesus, our Good Shepherd, does all of these things. However, do we stop there, or is there another application for this text?
For those in ministry, shepherding a flock, the application should also be clear. Every pastor has choices to make in their ministry. Am I really interested in the sheep, particularly those who might require more time and effort put into their care? Do I recognise those who have strayed away from the fellowship and need restoration? Where do I look for the lost, in church or outside in the world and what am I doing to reach out to those who are lost? Should our church have a healing ministry that looks for spiritual as well as physical healing?
Don’t be discouraged by the enormity of the task. While as a pastor you are called to shepherd a flock, in a very real sense you are also a sheep (part of a larger flock). Again in Ezekiel we read:
You are my sheep, the flock of my pasture, and I am your God, declares the Sovereign Lord. Ezekiel 34:31
As God is looking after you, so look after those in your care.
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