Ezekiel 34: 11-24 (GNT)
11 “I, the Sovereign Lord, tell you that I myself will look for my sheep and take care of them 12 in the same way as shepherds take care of their sheep that were scattered and are brought together again. I will bring them back from all the places where they were scattered on that dark, disastrous day. 13 I will take them out of foreign countries, gather them together, and bring them back to their own land. I will lead them back to the mountains and the streams of Israel and will feed them in pleasant pastures. 14 I will let them graze in safety in the mountain meadows and the valleys and in all the green pastures of the land of Israel. 15 I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will find them a place to rest. I, the Sovereign Lord, have spoken.
16 “I will look for those that are lost, bring back those that wander off, bandage those that are hurt, and heal those that are sick; but those that are fat and strong I will destroy, because I am a shepherd who does what is right.
17 “Now then, my flock, I, the Sovereign Lord, tell you that I will judge each of you and separate the good from the bad, the sheep from the goats. 18 Some of you are not satisfied with eating the best grass; you even trample down what you don't eat! You drink the clear water and muddy what you don't drink! 19 My other sheep have to eat the grass you trample down and drink the water you muddy.
20 “So now, I, the Sovereign Lord, tell you that I will judge between you strong sheep and the weak sheep. 21 You pushed the sick ones aside and butted them away from the flock. 22 But I will rescue my sheep and not let them be mistreated any more. I will judge each of my sheep and separate the good from the bad. 23 I will give them a king like my servant David to be their one shepherd, and he will take care of them. 24 I, the Lord, will be their God, and a king like my servant David will be their ruler. I have spoken.
"Jesus, tender Shepherd, hear me;
Bless thy little lamb tonight;
Through the darkness be thou near me;
Watch my sleep till morning light.”
(Mary Lundie Duncan, Revised Church Hymnary 654)
How the Shepherd image is embedded in my faith! — from a time before memory when I repeated these words with my Mother as I knelt by my wee bed.
All right, it is a 19th century hymn, well out of fashion now. But Psalm 23 is many centuries older, and never seems to go out of fashion. I have an Anthology of Psalm 23, containing dozens of versions, translations and paraphrases, each finding some new angle, some new truth, from the simple statement ‘The Lord is my shepherd’.
The Bible is full of shepherd stories and references, this from Ezekiel is but one.
There’s David, the King who was once a shepherd boy. I especially like the little verse (1 Samuel 17: 15) which tells of David, going back from time to time from Saul’s court to Bethlehem to take care of his father’s sheep.
There are the ‘humble shepherds’ of the Nativity – ordinary working people caught up in cosmic events, and the first people to go and spread the Good News.
There’s Jesus himself, the Good Shepherd, God incarnate to take care of his flock of ordinary people like you and me, and to teach us to take care of each other.
All we like sheep have gone astray, but we have a Good Shepherd to follow, a shepherd to look after us, to bring us back to the fold.
Lead us, we pray, in your safe paths.
Guide us in your right ways.
Gather us in your fold,
and remind us that there are other sheep to look out for,
that we are all your people
and the sheep of your pasture.