What I’m Thinking: Sheep are Not Alike

When Ezekiel declared that God would reunite the lost sheep of Israel, he curious made some distinctions among them.

Here’s a transcript:

As we come up to Reign of Christ Sunday this week, I’m thinking about the thirty-fourth chapter of Ezekiel (Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24). Ezekiel wrote about the scattered sheep being reunited, about the hungry among them being fed, the injured among them being healed. God declares that God will become their shepherd.

At the same time, Ezekiel warned, there will be judgment of the sheep themselves. Those who have suffered will be relieved. Those who have been well fed, well cared for, they, Ezekiel wrote, will be fed with justice.

Ezekiel wrote from the position of having been one of those well-fed sheep. He was part of the temple priesthood. That was why Ezekiel was among those taken from Jerusalem when the Babylonian Empire conquered the city for the first time. That was why Ezekiel was in Babylon writing these words, declaring that there would be a day of redemption and relief for the people of Israel who were now laboring under the rulership of a foreign power, the Babylonian Empire.

But Ezekiel also recognized – through this inspiration one sees but also, one guesses, from his own experiences of things – that God’s redemption could not look like what had come before, when the well-fed sheep of Israel, the ones who were supposed to be the shepherds, the protectors, those who would make sure that the sheep would have plenty to eat and received healing when they were injured: those shepherds had failed Israel. Those shepherds – the monarchs, the priests, the prophets – they had failed Israel. It was not just political failures: it was the failure to care for the people. And this, as much as anything, according to Ezekiel and his contemporary Jeremiah, this as much as anything was the cause for the great catastrophe: the fall of Jerusalem and the end of the independent existence of the nation of Judah.

Ezekiel’s promise of a new day and of relief is one that also came with judgment. And it is something for us to seriously consider in our relationships with God. Who have we been?

Each of us, in these days, is certainly in the place of being among those sheep who are sick, who are injured, who are lonely, who are lost. COVID-19 has equalized much.

But. But… not everything.

Who gets sick more in the United States? Poor people. Who gets sick and dies of COVID-19 more in the United States? People of color. Who are carrying the burdens? Poor people. Who are not receiving relief from the well cared for, well-fed sheep? Poor people.

Friends, our day of relief, when it comes, must come with some substantial changes to our culture. Once more this week I found myself repeating something that I have been saying for years, that in America we value hard work right up until the moment it’s time to pay for it, and suddenly the hard work isn’t worth so much.

Folks, we have got to aid those who have been so seriously affected by this pandemic, those who are ill but also those who have been put of positions where they can earn their living. They still need to live. They still need to be there when it’s time to come back to work again. And folks, we cannot allocate vaccines based on who can afford them. It’s simply not right.

Who will we be? Will we be a society that is engaged in this vision that God gave to Ezekiel? Will we be a society that offers healing, that feeds the hungry, which shelters the homeless?

Or: will we be a society that is fed on justice and judgment, with a few fat sheep suddenly confronting their sins?

That’s what I’m thinking. I’m curious to hear what you’re thinking. Leave me your thoughts in the comment section below; I’d love to hear from you.

Categories What I'm Thinking | Tags: | Posted on November 16, 2020

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