By Michael Fitzpatrick
A Reading from Ezekiel 34:17-31
17 As for you, my flock, thus says the Lord God: I shall judge between sheep and sheep, between rams and goats: 18 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? 19 And must my sheep eat what you have trodden with your feet, and drink what you have fouled with your feet?
20 Therefore, thus says the Lord God to them: I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. 21 Because you pushed with flank and shoulder, and butted at all the weak animals with your horns until you scattered them far and wide, 22 I will save my flock, and they shall no longer be ravaged; and I will judge between sheep and sheep.
23 I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd. 24 And I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them; I, the Lord, have spoken.
25 I will make with them a covenant of peace and banish wild animals from the land, so that they may live in the wild and sleep in the woods securely. 26 I will make them and the region around my hill a blessing; and I will send down the showers in their season; they shall be showers of blessing. 27 The trees of the field shall yield their fruit, and the earth shall yield its increase. They shall be secure on their soil; and they shall know that I am the Lord, when I break the bars of their yoke, and save them from the hands of those who enslaved them. 28 They shall no more be plunder for the nations, nor shall the animals of the land devour them; they shall live in safety, and no one shall make them afraid. 29 I will provide for them splendid vegetation, so that they shall no more be consumed with hunger in the land, and no longer suffer the insults of the nations. 30 They shall know that I, the Lord their God, am with them, and that they, the house of Israel, are my people, says the Lord God. 31 You are my sheep, the sheep of my pasture, and I am your God, says the Lord God.
The deep, culturally rooted metaphors of Scripture are timeless in their wisdom, because of how they capture so aptly our human longings for salvation. Ezekiel’s images here are not of private deliverance, but collective salvation, a loving Father promising a future kingdom free of the terrors that destroy the ability of this community to be a community together.
In this vision, God judges between “sheep and sheep,” bringing to an end those who secure more for themselves at the expense of others. God’s people will be situated in a place of relative security, with “showers of blessing” from the sky bringing forth abundance from the earth, and the people “shall be secure in their land.” They will no longer be persecuted by other nations, nor suffer from hunger. It is the Lord who “breaks the bars of their yoke,” who banishes the wild beasts and brings forth the bounty of the earth. It is the Lord who provides prosperous fields, and who sets over them a son of David in just rule.
Two fruits for our spiritual lives fall from this tree. First, there is no gospel that does not have political implications. The kingdom of heaven is a political hope for human life on this earth that addresses real political problems. In Ezekiel’s passage alone we see inequality, unsafe shelter, food insecurity, famine in the land, international conflict, and daily fear. The God who delivers is hope for all people, no matter how “earthly” their need for deliverance.
Second, the gospel is not “Try harder.” It is God who delivers. We humans are certainly called to respond to God’s work in the world, but we must always do so acknowledging that it is God who originates, sustains, and brings to fulfillment all our work, and that the end result is collective belonging to the God who saves. “You are my sheep, the sheep of my pasture, and I am your God,” says the Lord Almighty.
Michael Fitzpatrick is a doctoral student in philosophy at Stanford University. He attends St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Palo Alto, Calif., where he serves as a lay preacher and teacher.
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Daily Devotional Cycle of Prayer
Today we pray for:
Christ Cathedral, Salina, Kan.
The Diocese of Calabar (Church of Nigeria, Anglican Communion)