The words spoken through Ezekiel are very harsh; they make for uncomfortable reading for those who consider themselves to be shepherds. And of course this means you and me. God condemns the shepherds of Israel for the things they had not done and finished up by telling them that he had rejected them. We must remember that the things that apply to shepherds apply to all of us in our responsibility to the sheep in our care, whether this is in ‘pastoral’ ministry, the workplace or as mothers and fathers.
The shepherds are first of all condemned for feeding themselves while not looking after the flock, they had not only provided for their own basic needs but in fact had lived luxuriously while failing to care for those in their charge. For those in business this is a serious message, how dare we live in luxury while denying reasonable income to those who work for us? How can we enjoy the pleasures of life while those from whom our profits are derived struggle to make ends meet? The judgment goes further, these shepherds had failed to look after the sick, bind up the broken, bring back those that had gone astray or seek for those that were lost. In fact their severity had caused some of the sheep to go astray and become prey to those that would feed on them.
From this list of offences it becomes clear what sort of things that God expects of his shepherds. They are to look after the sick, help to alleviate emotional and practical needs, assist some to find their way and provide help to those in need. They are to do this in the context of justice and mercy. The shepherd was to care for his sheep before he looked to his own needs. A good shepherd would not go to sleep at night until he was certain that all of his sheep were safe and in the fold. And if there was danger, he may not go to sleep at all.
God looks out at our communities and marketplaces and he expects to see shepherds caring for the sheep. I suspect that too often he will see pastors who are more concerned about their personal needs, salary levels and creature comforts than the lives of the people they are responsible for. And while I do not refer only to paid ‘pastors’ I do not exclude them either. Too often pastors in congregations are more concerned about their budget, buildings and the numbers who turn up on Sunday than they are the personal and spiritual needs of the people in their charge. They work ‘business’ hours and surround themselves with the trappings of office that often make it difficult for hurting people to even get an audience. Pastors in the marketplace do likewise. They are so consumed about the bottom line that they fail to see the hurt in their employee’s faces. The size and furnishing of their offices reflects their image and position while the workers struggle for reasonable facilities to eat in. The manager’s office is air-conditioned but the factory staff swelter in unrelieved heat, dust and dirt.
God demands better from his shepherds. He has appointed them to lead his sheep into good pasture and to keep them safe. Whether those sheep are in the congregation, the community or the marketplace it makes no difference, the shepherd’s responsibility is the same. Who are the sheep that God has entrusted to you? Start with your family, then your neighbourhood, the part of the marketplace you are engaged in, either at work or as you carry out your day-to-day activities and if you pastor a local congregation, then those as well. But remember not all of the flock are in the fold, some are outside and need to be brought in, others have gone astray and need to be brought back. Wherever you are you have sheep to care for, their needs are greater than yours, God has given them to you because he trusts you to look after them – but if you don’t he will take them from you and give them to somebody else!