A shepherd is a role of great responsibility.
Many of us live out the duties of a shepherd in one way or another – we provide the nourishment, guidance, and protection for another living being who is unable to do this for themselves. This may be for a baby, child, or youth in our care. For others of us, it may be for a beloved pet, a parent, or someone God has placed under our umbrella of concern for the time being. Whether we chose to be in our leadership role or not, God expects us to execute our service fully, faithfully, and with love, just as He does for each one of us. The Lord has promised to never abandon us or to lead us down a wrong path and is a living example of just how we are to try to care for others.
Serious problems arise when a shepherd begins to neglect or abuse their leadership duties and begins to focus on themselves and their own needs rather than on the needs of those whom they are responsible for. This type of behavior greatly displeases the Lord.
Negligent shepherds angered the Lord even back in the prophet Ezekiel’s time, as delivered in this message to the Babylonian exiles:
1 Then this message came to me from the Lord: 2 “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds, the leaders of Israel. Give them this message from the Sovereign Lord: What sorrow awaits you shepherds who feed yourselves instead of your flocks. Shouldn’t shepherds feed their sheep? 3 You drink the milk, wear the wool, and butcher the best animals, but you let your flocks starve. 4 You have not taken care of the weak. You have not tended the sick or bound up the injured. You have not gone looking for those who have wandered away and are lost. Instead, you have ruled them with harshness and cruelty. 5 So my sheep have been scattered without a shepherd, and they are easy prey for any wild animal. 6 They have wandered through all the mountains and all the hills, across the face of the earth, yet no one has gone to search for them.
7 “Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: 8 As surely as I live, says the Sovereign Lord, you abandoned my flock and left them to be attacked by every wild animal. And though you were my shepherds, you didn’t search for my sheep when they were lost. You took care of yourselves and left the sheep to starve. 9 Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord. 10 This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I now consider these shepherds my enemies, and I will hold them responsible for what has happened to my flock. I will take away their right to feed the flock, and I will stop them from feeding themselves. I will rescue my flock from their mouths; the sheep will no longer be their prey. Ezekiel 34:1-10 (NLT)
Many of us are familiar with stories of those who exploit their vital roles as spiritual shepherds to take advantage of their flocks – proverbial wolves in sheep’s clothing. Corrupt religious leaders have long been the subject of movie and television roles, as well as the cause of sensational and disturbing news headlines. But the problem is not a new one, as Ezekiel’s message illustrates.
Jesus had His own struggles with the religious leadership of His day. In fact, they condemned Him, and were the means for Him to lay down His life for us on the cross.
What is the lesson in Ezekiel’s message for us today?
Perhaps it is to do our best to take care of those around us, especially those in our care or who need a little extra time, help or guidance. As Jesus put it, to love others as we would love ourselves. Easy to say, but often hard to practice.
What other lessons do you see?
Who is God putting on my heart that I need to extend a little extra grace to today?
Father God, show me the people (or animals) that You want me to be a shepherd to today. Grant me the grace to extend a little extra patience and longsuffering, and to go out of my way to meet the needs of another in love. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.