During the course of the week just concluded I came across the website of a recently concluded preaching conference in Minneapolis USA, titled “Preaching as moral imagination.” The promotional verbiage from the site reignited in me the passion for church leaders and teachers to take our task of feeding the flock of God and the wider community with all diligence and seriousness. It reads, “Once upon a time, preachers and churches had a primary role in shaping the moral imagination of a community, a society, even a nation.” This is what verse 16 of Ez. 34 brings into focus.
In order to make the case let us listen that verse in its immediate chapter context. Ez. 34: 16 – 22: “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.17 “‘As for you, my flock, this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I will judge between one sheep and another, and between rams and goats.18 Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture? Must you also trample the rest of your pasture with your feet? Is it not enough for you to drink clear water? Must you also muddy the rest with your feet?19 Must my flock feed on what you have trampled and drink what you have muddied with your feet?
20 “‘Therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says to them: See, I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. 21 Because you shove with flank and shoulder, butting all the weak sheep with your horns until you have driven them away, 22 I will save my flock, and they will no longer be plundered. I will judge between one sheep and another.
The focus of YHWH is still on the failure of leadership to monitor and teach and guide and protect the faith community. The turning of the community on itself is attributed to their neglect. God also speaks directly to the members of the faith community who have become consumed by greed, selfishness and predatory oppressiveness. This is the moral imagination we want to highlight today. We are sounding an alarm, and blowing a trumpet call of awareness and open rebuke for all of us. Beginning with the faith community and extending outwards to every citizen of earth. Yes! We are our brother’s keeper. Yes we are called into mutual relatedness. Ours must be a symbiotic relationship and we must resist all indications of parasitism in our midst. Needless to say the very mention of conduct such as greed, selfishness, predatory oppressiveness, parasitism among the faith community is a contradiction of terms. Don’t you know that you are members of one body? Queries Paul in Corinthians. In Galatians he posits, if we bite and devour one another we will be destroyed by each other. Any community that allows these conducts to germinate and grow has sown the seeds of its own destruction. Let me reiterate, all of this arises when the shepherds abandon their God given mandate. Let’s identify them from our text.
By its very definition community and selfishness are like the north and south poles from each other. The kind described above fits the Jamaican term “bad mind”. Feeding themselves and making sure no one else can feed or drink thereafter. This is what is playing out when one person gets a job, knows of further vacancies and actively keeps that a secret from a friend or church sister because they don’t want them to get a job. It is what is at play when you hide that book in the library so that no one else gets to use it in the hope that you will be the sole student with an A grade. You want to know how serious the God of justice takes the springing up of this in the faith community? Visit 1 Cor. 11 and hear Paul telling the brethren that many of their members are currently sick and some have already died from God’s judgement of their selfishness in the way they had corrupted the fellowship meal in commemoration of the Lord’s death, burial, resurrection and return.
Selfishness tends to journey with a bed fellow called greed. Greed is implied in the text, both at verse 16 with its reference to the weak sheep and the sleek and strong ones, as well as at verse 20 where fat and lean sheep are mentioned. Greed also figured in the Corinthian 11 text, to the extent that some had become gluttons and drunkards. The sudden death of the Farmer in Luke 12 is another example of Scripture’s repudiation of greed. When his field yielded a bumper crop he horded and feathered his own nest, never sparing a thought for the others in the community. This notion of one “anotherness” and being other minded is woven deep into the fabric of the life template of God’s people, especially in Deuteronomy. The Jubilee concept for example was given to them stymie greed among them. Who can deny that selfishness and greed are part of the reason we have the corruption and violent crime situation that we do. This preacher is calling us back to renouncing selfishness and greed.
The third rebuke of YHWH is against the predatory oppressive spirit that has sprung up among the people. V. 21 states, “you shove with flank and shoulder, butting all the weak sheep with your horns until you have driven them away…” It wasn’t enough that greed and selfishness led to some sheep being weak and lean but those who were rolling in opulence preyed upon the weak. History has shown ample evidence of this. The very ones who by their avarice ensure that some live in squalor are the ones who turn around and describe them as inferior stock that need to be eliminated to preserve a strong bloodline. The victims of our greed and selfishness suddenly become dispensable, worth less than a mongrel dog in our eyes. It is that which Marx observed about the industry, the owners of the means of production running roughshod over the backs of the workers. The workers who are disenfranchised, more susceptible to lifestyle diseases and easily replaced by any of the many other potential workers whose application is on file. It is when members meeting is conducted in a way that it is only those who work at certain places get a chance to speak while the others are dismissed and intimidated into silence. The God of justice makes a short, terse declaration: The sleek and the strong I will destroy. He has the last word, not you…not me.