20Thus says the Lord YHWH to them, â€œI’m the One, and I will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. 21Because you pushed the others around with your flanks and your shoulders, and you went after the weak ones with your horns until you scattered them all over the place, 22I will save my flock, and no longer be prey, and I will judge between one sheep and another. â€“ Ezekiel 34:20-22
Ezekiel 34 is often regarded as a passage addressed to shepherds, and it certainly gives those who are in leadership a great deal to think about. But there is an aspect to our Christian doctrine of â€œthe priesthood of all believersâ€ that often escapes us: You are at once, both shepherd and sheep.
Sometimes we despise being called sheep because it’s so demeaning. Sheep are pretty stupid. They will follow a leader right to the slaughter. But at other times we kind of like the designation. If we’re sheep it’s up to someone else to find us spiritual food, to see that we’re comfortable, and to make sure we arrive in heaven safe and sound.
But the Bible doesn’t only call us sheep. It calls sheep shepherds. There are ways in which you are to be like a sheep, such as in your trust in the shepherd of all our souls, Jesus Christ. But you also have responsibilities, to yourself, and to other sheep.
This week I’ve been meditating a bit on Matthew 25:31-46, the sheep and the goats. There are many lessons one could get from that passage, but I do notice that we prefer the idea of sheep being separated from goats to sheep from sheep. Why? Because in that story, we like to think of ourselves as the sheep! Scriptures always apply to other people, don’t they? They couldn’t apply to me!
But if you’re complaining about how you are being shepherded, and you’re not actively doing something about it, you may be in for a sheep vs sheep judgment. God is going to judge between the sheep, the fat ones and the thin ones.
The question may be just like the one in Matthew 25. There Jesus talks about taking care of the physical needs of others, but what about the spiritual needs? Are you more concerned with how much the person down the pew is getting from the church service than about yourself? Are you wondering if your Sunday School class serves the needs of the other members, or are you just ready to complain about the low quality of the teaching and go home without bothering to do anything about it?
We are all both sheep and shepherds. We all have a responsibility for one another. God is going to judge based on that responsibility. Matthew 25 focuses on the physical. Ezekiel 34 emphasizes both together.
What do you know about God?Â What have you learned about Jesus Christ in the past few weeks?Â How readily can you apply what you learn to your daily life?Â Recent research into the learning patterns of United Methodist adults indicate that these questions are irrelevant.Â Four-out-of-five UM adults (80.4%)Â report â€œlittleâ€ or â€œnoâ€ interest in Sunday school, Bible study, or small group formation experiences.Â Two-out-of-five (39.1%) claim that believing that Jesus Christ is Godâ€™s true son is enough â€” since they have a guaranteed spot in heaven, they donâ€™t have anything else of value to learn.Â An additional 48% believe that attending weekly worship is adequate, and that there is no need for any other formational experience in their lives.Â â€œBoringâ€ is the number one word or phrase associated with Sunday school (among all adults), and â€œfellowship with friendsâ€ is the number one reason adults attend Sunday school classes.Â Those adults who attend Bible studies find them â€œinterestingâ€ and â€œinformative,â€ but only 1-in-6 (17%) report finding practical information that applies to their daily lives.
So what about you? Do you want more formation than just a moment of accepting Jesus? How much? Are you willing to take up those shepherd responsibilities and help to make things better? I’m quite certain, as a teacher, that I often fail to reach the people I teach. Are you going to come tell me not only when I miss, but also just what it is that you need? And maybe, just maybe, God is calling you, personally to fix some of the problems by getting up and teaching!
Let’s not just be whiners â€“ let’s be doers. That’s the only way to handle this â€œsheep vs sheepâ€ judgment.