1And YHWH’s word came to me, saying,
2Human, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel! Prophesy and say to the shepherds, ‘This is what the Lord YHWH says: “Woe to the shepherds of Israel, who have been tending to themselves! Should not shepherds tend the sheep?”‘” — Ezekiel 34:1-2
There’s nothing like a good â€œWoe!â€ to get the blood flowing on a Monday morning, is there? You don’t agree? You’d like some encouragement as you start the week? Well, I think I’m going to use this metaphor of shepherds and sheep in a slightly different way. This is not exegesis-extracting the meaning from the passage. Rather, I’m using a common Biblical metaphor from shepherds, and applying it quite differently. Perhaps later in the week I’ll talk about the context of Ezekiel 34.
There’s one part of this, however, that starts from Ezekiel 34. I’ve always taken this chapter rather personally, because it talks to church leaders. Now some folks are really afraid to be called church leaders. Some think that’s pushing themselves forward, and is a bit arrogant. Others don’t feel worthy. Others are pretty sure they’re not doing anything to warrant being called a leader.
But if your church congregation is at all healthy, there will be a large number of shepherds in the congregation, people who work with or help even just one or two other people in their Christian life. Anyone who has the opportunity and the ability to help someone move forward spiritually should take this chapter seriously. Gifts and opportunities imply responsibilities in God’s system.
In the movie Groundhog Day, Bill Murray plays a television reporter who is forced to repeat a short period of time in his life over and over again. This plot element fascinates many of us, and I think I know why. The plot of the movie feels a great deal like our lives.
Does this Monday morning feel like that? Is it going to be the same as last Monday morning, stretching backwards and forwards in a chain of indistinguishable Monday mornings? Maybe that’s why it’s so hard to get going each new week. If each new week is the springboard of new spiritual growth, if you’re joyfully moving from new height to new height, then this devotional is not for you.
But I think many of us are stuck in an over-applied metaphor in our lives. What do I mean by that? Well, Jesus said, â€œI am the good shepherdâ€ and he described us as his sheep (John 10:11-18). Now many of us have extended this metaphor in all directions. We’re supposed to be obedient like the sheep. We’re supposed to follow our shepherds, even our human shepherds, like sheep. We’re supposed to be humble like sheep.
Then after we’ve extended the idea of being sheep, we also decide to remain sheep. Sheep don’t get promoted to shepherd. Someone else comes in and does that. Sheep don’t question shepherds. They’re not qualified to do so. Sheep just follow along behind whoever chooses to lead, and if the shepherd is struck down, the sheep wander off and get lost.
But I’m going to suggest that God has not called you to be sheep. I know a number of people who are looking for a better church, a better worship experience, more challenging Sunday School classes, and a greater sense of mission. They go on looking and looking and looking. They’ve been disappointed by leaders who don’t lead, who are fearful, who are contentious and divisive, who are shallow, or who are tradition-bound and can’t make things interesting.
My question is this: Why don’t you go and make that happen? The only thing that’s keeping many of you from doing something is that you’re afraid to abandon the sheep metaphor. It’s a comfortable one, with people looking after you. Your church, your pastor, your church board are responsible to provide these things, after all. So you go home and complain that it isn’t happening.
And this isn’t just in your church and spiritual lives. It’s in your daily lives as well. There’s a moment in a sheep’s life when he should turn aside and quit following. A good indicator would be when the leader is heading straight for the place where he’ll be made into lamb chops. Now sheep aren’t going to figure that out, but that’s precisely what I mean by being stuck in a metaphor. You’re not really a sheep. God protects you like a sheep. He can illustrate his care for you with the shepherd and sheep, but you aren’t actually a sheep!
In spiritual warfare we talk about this in terms of word curses. A child whose parents have told her she’s stupid, or she can’t lead, or she can’t answer God’s call to be a pastor because she’s a girl, or he can’t become president and reform his country because ordinary people don’t do thatâ€”such a child will tend not to achieve. Being stuck in a metaphor is the ultimate self word-curse. It says, â€œI’m here and this is all I’ll be, and unless someone comes by and offers me a new job (which won’t happen), I’ll be here for the rest of my life. Unless someone establishes a church nearby with awesome worship and wonderful Sunday School classes, my spiritual life will remain stuck.â€
God says he’ll shepherd his own sheep (Ezekiel 34:11-16). If you are willing to take that step forward into making things the way they should be instead of surviving them the way they are, God is there. Proceed prayerfully and carefully, but drop the losing metaphors!
Determine that this Monday morning will be the last ordinary Monday morning of your life!