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Message from Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24
by Major Pauline Gruer-Caulfield

 *editor's note: These are preaching notes, not academic essay papers, and so may lack a reference here or there (indeed, they were prepared for preaching and not for wider readership).  It is not the intent to withhold credit from a source.



I don’t know what is your opinion of “23 and me” and other such DNA tests, but this week CBC aired an interview with author A. J. Jacobs. In his latest book, “It’s all relative – adventures up and down the family tree,” he delves into his own genealogy and chronicles his plans for what he hoped would become the largest “family” reunion in history. Through DNA analysis he has discovered his relation to Hillary Clinton, Lady Gaga, Barack Obama. His goal, to help us realize the simple but key truth that we are all somehow related, that it is scientifically true that we are one human family. His hope is that by helping people realize our interconnectedness it may lead us to treat each other better.


The same day I read a recommended spiritual exercise: sit in a public place, a park, an airport and just watch people go by, but as each person goes by think: Jesus died for him, Jesus died for her, I tried it on Friday as I stood ringing the bells, watching people, each so unique, some with head coverings, shaved heads, dressed like models, or like I would dress, of all ages. It really causes you to see people differently. Try it next time you do a kettle shift, it transforms it into a time of prayer. But even more, if we could keep this thought in mind, I am sure this awareness would affect the way we treat one another.


Our DNA may have the world interconnected, yet our care/concern for humanity goes beyond genealogies. Jesus cares, profoundly loves each individual throughout the world. They are loved as I am loved.


Today is the last Sunday in the Christian calendar, the Sunday when we reflect on Christ the King.  Our reading from the Epistles lead us praying that our eyes may be opened, so that we may know Jesus better. I don’t know if you noticed it when we did our Responsive Reading but it seems as the Spirit was opening Paul’s eyes to the wonder of who Jesus us, he ran out of vocabulary – how can I explain to you who Jesus is: He is far above every rule and authority, power and dominion… every name in the present and the future… He fills everything in every way!


The Message translation expresses Jesus’ greatness saying He is: in charge of running the universe, everything from galaxies to governments, no name and no power exempt from His rule. And not just for the time being, but forever…


And so we appropriately sung: “My Jesus, my Saviour, Lord there is none like You.”


May our eyes continue to be opened to who Jesus is.


Keep this in mind, as we look at the words from Ezekiel 34.


The context in which Ezekiel ministered: Ezequiel was both a priest and a prophet. He had grown up during the spiritual revival and reforms under King Josiah, then he experienced society’s disregard of their relationship with God and, even though he himself was serving the Lord, he suffered the consequence of the people’s waywardness and was taken captive in the deportation of 597 BC to Babylon.


What does a person do when removed from their home and place of ministry? Ezekiel continued being a priest and a prophet. He ministered to the exiled Jews in Babylonia and taught them both regarding God’s judgment and ultimate blessing.[1]


A critique of the leaders – the shepherds

Have you ever thought that the image of a Shepherd had political implications?  Have you ever thought of our Prime Minister as the Shepherd of Canada? Or of the CEO and president of a company, the small business owner as the shepherd of those under her employment?


Ezekiel 34 is a political critique probably of the leaders of Israel and Judah but also the rulers of Babylon. The fact is that because the people had been exploited, the nation had been destroyed. And in Ezekiel 34 we find the nations’ leaders referred to as shepherds, emphasizing the ruler’s responsibility to establish justice so that the people may flourish.[2]


That is what we want from our leaders, that is what we expect! that they will establish and preserve justice so that we may flourish.


But verses 11-16 are for the people, for the sheep, and it’s like reading Psalm 23 in prose. It is powerful. This is almighty God saying, enough! I will search for my sheep, I will seek them, I will rescue them, I will bring them out, I will feed them, I myself will be their shepherd, I will “make them lie down”,  I will bind the injured, I will strengthened the weak, I will feed them with justice.


If you see yourself at all needing such an intervention in your life, what a hope! This is Almighty God rolling up his sleeves, hands on, interacting with us, caring profoundly and setting things straight.


The hope increases as we read vs. 20-24 I will save my flock, they shall no longer be ravaged. (v.21) There we see the promise of the Messiah, the Shepherd King from the line of David.  When the Holy Spirit gave these words to the prophet, Ezekiel probably had in mind an immediate restitution of the dynasty of David to the throne in Jerusalem. And they continue waiting…


When the early church considered these words, they saw in the Davidic reference an anticipation of Jesus.  They made the association with Jesus’ words, as we can see recorded, for example, in the Gospel of John, chapter 10 where Jesus describes himself as “the good shepherd”. He is the new ruler who cares for the flock (John 10:3-7) and he will provide abundant life (John 10:10). Jesus tells us he came to heal and to save, to forgive, to feed.  And if you think of Jesus’ style of leadership, He had no shred of self-indulgence in contrast to the leaders described in Ezekiel. He came for the common good.[3]


The words of Ezekiel would have challenged the exiles in Babylon to be a people of integrity and given them hope as they waited. God sees you. God will intervene.


The first Christians saw clearly, God is intervening.


But now today, as we read these words we need to consider what is the Holy Spirit saying to us, today.


On the basis of Ezekiel 34, we could criticize current shepherds… the truth is that our society is governed by the wealthy and strong. A commentator south of the border reflects that tax laws, regulatory agencies… are all administered by the “fat and strong” to their own benefit and to the neglect of the hungry sheep who are without resources.  Governments are not responding to the environmental crisis, because regulation might “hurt the economy.”[4] I would suspect it is not much different in Canada.  What about the off shore accounts? With each revelation of a new list of names, I am praying please let there not be a respected Christian name among them.  The wealthiest sheltering their wealth from taxes which are meant to maintain the wellbeing of all the sheep.


It is easy to point fingers, but Ezekiel 34 does produce a bit of discomfort because it also says “Therefore, thus says the Lord God to them: I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep.  The criticism moves from the shepherds to the sheep themselves. And it says: Because you pushed with flank and shoulder, and butted at all the weak animals with your horns


The stronger sheep instead of helping the weaker ones, push them out of their way, they will be held to account!


I myself am stepping in and making things right between the plump sheep and the skinny sheep. Because you forced your way with shoulder and rump and butted at all the weaker animals with your horns (The Message)


I don’t know about you, but as I was reading Ezekiel 34 at this time, in the time and place we are living in, I had trouble identifying with the lean sheep, especially considering what is happening around the world. This is a sobering thought. When the Lord says: I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice. We all have a measure of power, don’t we?  How are we using our resources, our means, our power over others?


This is the key question for me, for us today: Are we the sleek and the strong or are we the hands and feet of God through whom He wants to shepherd the flock with justice?


The Gospel reading for today was Matthew 25. There we read of the day when Jesus will come back and He will separate – as he himself describes us – the sheep from the goat.  On what basis? I was hungry and you fed (or did not feed) me, I was sick, I was in jail… Truly I tell you, whatever you did or (did not do) for one of the least of these, you did (or did not do) for me.’ (Matt 25:45)


Some of us here have the skill and influence to address the causes of injustice, others have the gifting to care for those suffering the consequences, we all have a role.  We are not only somehow related as human beings, our Lord and Saviour deeply identifies with the least and he points to his children, to the church and says whatever you do for the least you do for me.


Today the bulletin may have seemed a little overwhelming at first reading: support the YP dept, prepare to give for the white fund, volunteer for kettles, give, give, give.  What amazes me is that these are all things within our reach. We want to be there for our children, for those within our congregation when they go through a difficult time, but also for our neighbours. The timing of this scripture as we as a congregation are pulling together to raise funds to resource our Community and Family Services so that throughout the year we can continue giving relief and hope to those in need around us is good. And Jesus says, each time you do it, you are doing it for me.


But, Ezekiel 34 challenges us to search deeper into our soul in all honesty, to see if there is any way in which I am using my power for my benefit at the expense of my weaker brother? My resources at the expense of my weaker sister?


We are going to sing song 935.


Key question: Are we the sleek and the strong or are we the hands and feet of God through whom He is shepherding the flock with justice?



*editor's note: These are preaching notes, not academic essay papers, and so may lack a reference here or there (indeed, they were prepared for preaching and not for wider readership).  It is not the intent to withhold credit from a source.


[1] Expositor's Bible Commentary, The, Pradis CD-ROM:Ezekiel/Introduction to Ezekiel/Background of Ezekiel, Book Version: 4.0.2

[2] Margaret Odell, Professor of Religion http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2188

[3] Walter Brueggemann, https://www.huffingtonpost.com/walter-brueggemann/ezekiel-34-christ-the-king-sunday-on-scripture_b_1097125.html

[4] Brueggemann








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