Summary: In Ezekiel 34, using the language of promise, God introduces a new plan for shepherding his people which we see fulfilled in John 10. Jesus, the Good Shepherd still calls his sheep.
The Good Shepherd
Ezekiel 34:1-6; 11-16;23-24; 30-31
Just before school started, I invited four kids from next door to go with me to the city library. These kids ranged from 7 – 10 years old and had never been to the library.
We went upstairs where they have all the books for kids and we spent an hour looking at books of all sizes, colors, and shapes.
One book I pulled off the shelf was this book of Mother Goose Nursery Rhymes. As we paged through the book, I found that the kids knew some of the rhymes.
If you have learned some of these rhymes, you know that several of them are about sheep. There’s Mary had a Little Lamb, of course, which goes on and on, verse after verse. And then there are a couple of others about sheep that got lost.
Little Boy Blue, come blow your horn,
The sheep’s in the meadow, the cow’s in the corn.
Where’s the little boy who looks after the sheep?
Under the haystack, fast asleep.
The problem with Little Boy Blue is that he fell asleep on the job. The fancy name for that is dereliction of duty. And the sheep got out of their pen and were wandering in places where they shouldn’t have been. What kind of shepherd is this Little Boy Blue, who doesn’t do what a good shepherd should be doing? He should be paying more attention to his sheep.
And then there is Little Bo-Peep.
Little Bo Peep
Little Bo Peep has lost her sheep,
And can’t tell where to find them.
Leave them alone,
and they’ll come home,
Bringing their tails behind them.
Now we don’t know why Little Bo-Peep has lost her sheep, but if she is going to take care of her sheep properly, she should watch them more carefully. They might not come home on their own. She might have to go out and find them.
In the Bible, Jesus told a story about a shepherd who had 100 sheep and he lost one of them. Did he just let it go? No. He left the 99 sheep where they were and he went to find the one that was lost. And when he found it, he put the sheep on his shoulder, and when he got home, he threw a big party to celebrate. And Jesus said that’s what happens in heaven when someone gets rid of his sin and decides to follow Jesus. Everyone is full of joy.
And if you have been here when we baptize people, you know that we celebrate, too. We have coffee and punch and people hang around and let those who were baptized know they are welcome here because it is a wonderful time. We look forward to welcoming people into God’s family.
Chapter 34 in Ezekiel is about sheep and shepherds. When we talked about this passage on Wednesday evening, I learned that the most likely place to see a sheep these days is at the county fair. Some of us, though, have had first-hand experience with sheep on the farm. And even though pictures show sheep that look woolly and friendly and ready to follow you wherever you go, I know that sheep are not always that way. When I was small, we used to have a sheep buck that would sneak up behind me and butt me with his head. I never learned how to sneak past him. If only I could have pulled the wool over his eyes.
Ezekiel 34 is not really about sheep, of course; it is about people who acted like sheep. They needed a good shepherd to lead them. And the shepherds Ezekiel wrote about were not really shepherds, of course. They were the kings of Israel who had the responsibility of leading their citizens. For you students who study literature, this is called allegory. This way of comparing people with sheep and leaders with shepherds sounds like a nice way to talk about the relationship between kings and their subjects. But there was a problem.
Shepherds are supposed to look out for the sheep and kings are supposed to look out for their subjects, but the prophet Ezekiel says that is not what the kings in Israel were doing. Instead of caring for the weak, the sick, the injured, the strayed, and the lost, these shepherds, or kings in this case, were mostly looking after themselves, feeding themselves, fleecing their subjects, and lining their own nests. Ezekiel said, “You drink the milk, you clothe yourselves with the wool, etc., but you do not feed the sheep.” And so, instead of helping their citizens, these national leaders were getting richer and more powerful at the expense of their citizens. The head honchos were getting huge benefits while the peons were barely eking out an existence. Greed was the name of the game. They were doing things to their own advantage. Does that sound like something you’ve heard before?