Shepherds and Kings and the People of God

To the leaders of Israel the prophet Ezekiel says,

“Ah, you shepherds of Israel, who have been feeding yourselves!

Should not shepherds feed the sheep?

You eat the fat,

You clothe yourselves with the wool,

You slaughter the fatlings;

But you do not feed the sheep.

You have not strengthened the weak,

You have not healed the sick,

You have not bound up the injured,

You have not brought back the strayed,

You have not sought the lost,

But with force and harshness you have ruled them.

So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd;

and scattered, they became food for all the wild animals.”

Leaders of Israel enriching themselves at the people’s expense.

Leaders of Israel not tending the people’s needs.

Leaders of Israel looking after their interests as the land is laid to ruin

and the people taken captive.

 

Words Jesus echoes time and again.

Woe to you Chora’zin! Woe to you, Beth-sai’da

Woe to you scribes and pharisees, hypocrites!

Woe to you blind guides.

 

Words that undergird Jesus’ critique of the world in which lived and taught and healed and died.

A land occupied by Roman soldiers.

A regime supported by taxes that sapped the strength of the people.

A system in which the wealthy few extracted the life blood from the many poor.

A world where children were abandoned and left to fend for themselves

where the sick were ignored

where the landless were tossed into the cold utter darkness

 

Are those worlds—the world of Ezekiel and the world of Jesus—so very different from the world in which we live?

A world in which political gain trumps the common good

A world of collapsing bridges, closed libraries and failed schools

Are we not a nation as desperately in need of repair as Israel of Ezekiel and Palestine of Jesus?

Ours is a land of foster care systems that place children in precarious settings

A land of overcrowded prisons focusing on punishment not rehabilitation

One with a medical system that privileges the wealthy and

penalizes the poor

A country that cultivates a culture of fear.

 

We don’t have to cross rivers or deserts or mountains to see these forces at work.

We live in a state in which children go hungry and government attempts to

cut food stamps from the neediest.

We live in a city in which the police department is under the scrutiny of the

federal government.

 

And yet God says to the people of Israel and to their shameless shepherds,

“I myself will search for my sheep….

I will seek out my sheep….

I will rescue them….

I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed,

and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak,

but the fat and the strong I will destroy.

I will feed them with justice.”

 

Over five hundred years later, Jesus offers similar promises to the people of Israel. Heralding a new day, Jesus proclaims the goods news of the reign of God.

Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for

they will be filled.

Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

Throughout his ministry, Jesus tells those within earshot about the reign of God and assures them that that very reign has come near—near enough for people to see it and to live it.

There are those who would say to followers of Jesus, “Just wait. Wait until Jesus comes again in glory. Just wait for the promised land. Just wait for Jesus to come back and get you and raise you up.”

I don’t think they have read the Gospel of Matthew. I don’t think they have caught the drift of Jesus’ words.

Jesus says to those who follow him,

“Come, you that are blessed by my Father,

inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world;

for I was hungry and you gave me food,

I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink,

I was a stranger and you welcomed me,

I was naked and you gave me clothing,

I was sick and you took care of me,

I was in prison and you visited me.”

Then the righteous will answer him, “lord, when….”

You know his reply. You know what Christ the King says to the righteous ones:

“Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

 

There’s an already to the reign of God. Already here. Right before our very eyes.

Here. When we feed the hungry at St. Martin’s and Casa San Miguel.

Here. When we house the homeless through programs like Heading Home.

Here. When we visit the sick.

Here. When we bring a meal to Dismas House.

Here. When we welcome strangers at our table.

Here. When we look at one another and at our shadow side as well and see the face of Christ.

 

But there’s also a “not yet” to the reign of God.

A “not yet” challenging us to work for justice.

A “not yet” calling us to live in peace.

A “not yet” urging us to help heal our broken world.

A “not yet” inviting us to join with God in bringing God’s kingdom near.

This is not work we do alone.

Remember, God says to the people of Israel, “I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak….”

Remember, Jesus promises his disciples, “I will be with you always. Even to the end of the Age.”

 

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