November 21, 2020 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – Ezekiel 34:15-16 (NRSV)
I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord God. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice.
What does it mean for Christ to be our King? One thing it means is not to behave like the false shepherds of Ezekiel 34. Instead of pushing to the front of the line (literally or metaphorically) as the kings of this world do, we are to emulate our Great Shepherd, learning to heal and love and care and seek the lost.
Today we come to the final weekend in the church year. Next weekend we will begin the journey of Advent. As I noted last time, as we draw near to that contemplation of Christ’s coming in both his beautiful Incarnation and his final Revelation, the readings in the lectionary get more and more prophetic, apocalyptic, and even downright terrifying.
That’s nowhere more true than it is on the final Sunday of the year—tomorrow. For the last fifty years or so, this Sunday has been called “Christ the King Sunday” in most of the Western church. (The Sunday has been celebrated for almost 100 years—Pope Pius XI originally established it as a feast day for Roman Catholics in 1926—but it was not until 1970 that it began to be celebrated by Catholics at the end of the church year instead of in October. Protestants who observe it followed suit.)
The readings, prayers, and sermon for this final Sunday all focus on what it means for Jesus to be our King, both now and at the end of time. In the Old Testament reading we are looking at today, we see at first the beautiful side of Jesus’ coming reign: God will gather all of his scattered sheep and bring them to a place where they will have pasture and water and rest and safety.
But if you step back and look at all of Ezekiel 34, this beautiful picture is placed in the middle of a prophetic word spoken against false shepherds. God reminds these false shepherds—the military and religious leaders of Israel—that “you have not strengthened the weak, you have not healed the sick, you have not bound up the injured, you have not brought back the strayed, you have not sought the lost, but with force and harshness you have ruled them” (Ezekiel 34:4). Therefore, God says, he’s taking over the job. Judgement is coming.
It’s difficult to avoid quoting this astounding passage in its entirety:
Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture, but you must tread down with your feet the rest of your pasture? When you drink of clear water, must you foul the rest with your feet? And must my sheep eat what you have trodden with your feet, and drink what you have fouled with your feet? Therefore, thus says the Lord God to them: I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. Because you pushed with flank and shoulder, and butted at all the weak animals with your horns until you scattered them far and wide, I will save my flock, and they shall no longer be ravaged; and I will judge between sheep and sheep. (Ezekiel 34:18-22)
What does it mean for Christ to be our King? One thing it means is not to behave like the false shepherds of Ezekiel 34. Instead of pushing to the front of the line (literally or metaphorically) as the kings of this world do, we are to emulate our Great Shepherd, learning to heal and love and care. Whenever we are leaders, we should lead not by exerting our own authority with “force and harshness” but by loving, sacrificial example.
Because, as Ezekiel reminds his hearers, God is not just going to give his sheep rest and safety and feed them good pasture. God is going to feed them justice. Justice that rolls down like water, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
Where can you heal the sick, bind up the injured, strengthen the weak, and seek the lost in your own setting?
Where do you need healing and strength?
Today, the song I have for you to ponder is a famous gospel chorus—“Soon and Very Soon” by Andraé Crouch. Pay attention to his description of Jesus’s reign, and the resonance it has with Ezekiel 34. How can you live as one getting ready to see the King, now and eternally?
Lord Jesus, I acknowledge you as my King and my ultimate hope. Guide and strengthen me when I am lost. Chasten me when I stray from your way and mistreat those whom you would have me feed and heal. I trust in your grace, now and always. Amen.
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Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Commentary on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Israel’s Failure of Leadership (Ezekiel 34)
Jennifer Woodruff Tait (PhD, Duke University) is the editor of and frequent contributor to Life for Leaders. She is also the managing editor of Christian History magazine and web editor for the Theology of Work Project, and a priest in the Episcopal Church. She has written a book of poetry, Histories of Us. Jennifer lives in Berea, Kentucky, with her husband, Edwin, and their two daughters.
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