Just a razor to the neck – Wednesday, 20th Week in ordinary time – Ezekiel 34:1-11

Just a razor to the neck – Wednesday, 20th Week in ordinary time – Ezekiel 34:1-11

If ever text of scripture should make the ministers and preachers of God tremble in their boots, it is this one. It spoke directly to civil and religious leader who were to shepherd the people of Israel and it speaks directly to civil leaders, ministers and preachers who shepherd their flocks in the name of God. What it has to say is without lather, just the razor to the neck doing its job!

With the fall of Jerusalem (Ezekiel 33:21), there is a transition from preaching oracles of doom to words of hope. These words of hope were developed in two stages. Chapters 33-39 are a series of oracles directed to the purification of the land and the people for the day of the renewed Israel. Chapters 40-48 will be oracles of hope for the great temple of Jerusalem which now stands destroyed.

But while Ezekiel did preach oracles of hope it did not mean that God’s judgment had faded away; at least not for its rulers and leaders. In this chapter, Ezekiel focuses on the purification of the of the community and the land. He denounces bad rulers who have shepherded Israel (34:1-10). Even though the book of Ezekiel deals with the southern kingdom of Judah, “Israel” is a theological term for God’s people as a whole. God announces his plan to shepherd the sheep himself and to appoint a new David over them. (Ezekiel 34: 11-31).

The notion of shepherds as rulers of the people emerged from the Sumerian kings in the third millennium. These rulers of the ancient near east referred to themselves as ‘shepherds’ of their people. Borrowing from an already acceptable term, Ezekiel directs God’s wrath towards these leaders

Today’s reading takes up the first issue of bad shepherds. Ezekiel is blunt! “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” (34:2b-3). The unfaithful leaders of Israel (both civil and spiritual) exploited their flocks without caring for them in return. It wasn’t wrong for the shepherd to make his living from the flock, but it was wrong to do it in a way that neglected love for the flock and the needs of the sheep.

This exploitation does not simply damage the flock, it results in its scattering, leaving individual sheep vulnerable to further prey and the flock subject to yet further disintegration as it is scattered among the nations (34:5-6). In Ezekiel’s context, this scattering alludes to the disintegration of the kingdom of Judah and the dispersion and exile of its inhabitants among the nations.

Instead of the care, wisdom, and compassion that a faithful shepherd should have, these unfaithful shepherds used force and cruelty. This was their shameful crime and one reason they were objects of God’s rebuke and approaching judgment.

In both the civil and spiritual realms, when sheep have unfaithful shepherds, some people tend to subscribe to the school of thought that any shepherd, civil or religious need to be dispensed with. They think that almost any kind of leadership, especially among God’s people is unnecessary and that the flock can lead itself. Ezekiel specifically spoke against this kind of thinking. When there was no shepherd, it was no better for the sheep.

Finally, God saw the unfaithful shepherds and would not be silent about their sins. These shepherds did not seem able to correct themselves, so God would correct them. God solemnly promised to hold the unfaithful, ungodly shepherds to account. In the eyes of the flock, they may seem to go unpunished; God promised to deal with them and God promise to take over from them

From now, God reigns and God rules. He becomes our good shepherd.

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