Shepherd and sheep on Christ the King Sunday is a surprise, but in my ‘less liturgical’ setting we might choose to look at this fascinating passage and the verses excluded from the lectionary. Whenever I hear about sheep I think of the stories my husband tells of the days he managed a small farm. “Sheep are dumb!” he says, if their afterbirth wasn’t bright orange, they’d walk away never knowing they’d given birth.” Sheep may know the shepherd’s voice but they’ll pretty much follow another sheep anywhere, even off a cliff. I wonder when Jesus self-describes as the good shepherd, if he was implying that we’re typical sheep, its not very complimentary.
Ezekiel 34 offers us lovely images of well cared-for sheep, reminding us of God’s meticulous care. Yet, in one of the verses skipped over by the lectionary, there are less calming images. The accusations of verses 18 and 21 hold true today.
As for you, my flock, thus says the Lord God: I shall judge between sheep and sheep, between rams and goats: Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture, but you must tread down with your feet the rest of your pasture? When you drink of clear water, must you foul the rest with your feet? And must my sheep eat what you have trodden with your feet, and drink what you have fouled with your feet?
Therefore, thus says the Lord God to them: I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. Because you pushed with flank and shoulder, and butted at all the weak animals with your horns until you scattered them far and wide, I will save my flock, and they shall no longer be ravaged; and I will judge between sheep and sheep.
Must we foul the water to which we have been led preventing others from having the same satisfactory and life-giving drink? Have we not butted with horns to get to the front of the line when it comes to world resources? Whew, I stand guilty using more than my share of fuel in the plane in which I sit as I write this. And I’m headed back to a warm house (electricity) and a wood fire (pollution) and a full (hopefully?) refrigerator that has food trucked in from long distances (fuel again) and likely harvested by low-paid workers, possibly grown under environmentally destructive conditions. I stand convicted and all I’m doing is coming home from a conference.
I sit here wondering where’s the good news in this passage? My hope and trust is in the shepherd. That if I follow the good shepherd and ‘lay down in those green pastures’ to which the shepherd leads I will be following a path that is gentle to the environment and sustainable for others in the herd. At this point in our environmental mess, following the shepherd, closely, always, and not wandering off, is our only hope.
For a good sermon on Matthew 25, go to http://rj-whenlovecomestotown.blogspot.com/ and scroll down to Faith, Doubt and the Via Negativa.