This series on the State of The Church address tracks a Biblical survey of Pastoral concerns for the community of faith. Ezekiel was also used by YHWH to highlight the state of the faith community. His oracle at chapter 34 will provide our text for today and next week Lord willing. Hear the word of the Lord from verses 1 – 10:
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? 3 You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not 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, and when they were scattered they became food for all the wild animals.6 My sheep wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. They were scattered over the whole earth, and no one searched or looked for them.
7 “‘Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD: 8 As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, because my flock lacks a shepherd and so has been plundered and has become food for all the wild animals, and because my shepherds did not search for my flock but cared for themselves rather than for my flock, 9 therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD: 10 This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I am against the shepherds and will hold them accountable for my flock. I will remove them from tending the flock so that the shepherds can no longer feed themselves. I will rescue my flock from their mouths, and it will no longer be food for them
The Lord of the faith community aims at the heart of the issue. The text opens with a pointed sarcastic rhetorical question: Should not shepherds take care of the flock? This assessment described here represents the very opposite of what was expected of shepherds. By definition shepherds were to be self-sacrificing in their work, seeking the increase of the flock by careful attention to their needs. What Ezekiel highlights is that these shepherds were really hired employees under the divine Shepherd, Yahweh. He had entrusted his sheep to these hired shepherds and they were doing that which shepherds were not supposed to do. The shepherds neglected to care for the flock and instead fed their own appetites. In the analogy of shepherding such neglect is tantamount to abuse. A flock of sheep where the sick are not tended, the injured are not mended, strays are not retrieved and the healthy are taken for granted is quickly decimated.
Hear YHWH’s case against these shepherds. Ezekiel lists 11 indictments against them, and the verdict is guilty on all counts.
This text is a very sobering one. James cautions those who desire to lead, particularly as teachers in the faith community that we will be held to a deservedly higher and stricter standard [James 3:1]. I firmly believe that we in the pastoral fraternity have a duty to hold each other accountable across the denominational chasms. Whether we know each other personally or not there is far too much at stake for us to treat lightly any evidence of the corruption of the Pastoral ministry and calling. Where there are indications that shepherds in our midst are using the church as a feeding trough we cannot keep silent. Where shepherds are suspected or reported to be preying on the young sexually it is not time to conveniently misquote ‘love covers a multitude of sins.’ The law has a term for such: “accomplice”. Our Pastors in training need to learn by text and by example that there is nothing more meaningful to the sick and shut in than our actual presence. Our communities come face to face with the raw pain of tragic deaths and calamities ever so often. The empathic presence of the shepherd with that family as soon as possible after the incident speaks more than a loud sermon about love.
Above all let us hear the call of the text that the underlying error of these shepherds was their failure to feed the flock. The time and care taken to prepare, to faithfully teach the word of God must be guarded. There needs to be a careful diligence to avoid the “sound bytes” and the “ray ray” [gossip stories]. The flock needs substance. Our teaching ministry must be one of depth and relevance and rooted and grounded in the lived experience of our people. Take a look at the 11 counts brought against these shepherds. Are we guilty of any?