Today’s first reading comes after the prophet Ezekiel condemns the false shepherds (i.e. leaders) of Judah. God’s word labels the kings and queens of Jerusalem as false because they do not do what a shepherd does. A shepherd takes care of the sheep but Ezekiel’s contemporaries do not. The leaders take for themselves, giving their sheep nothing. They feed themselves but not those who need it. They do not strengthen the weak, take care of the injured, heal the sick, or bring back those who have strayed. Instead, with force and fear, they rule over others. The sheep (i.e. the people) become “food for all the wild animals.” The people are scattered and alone. No one sees them, except for God.
God promises the people around Ezekiel that God is their shepherd. God will do what the leaders did not do. God will heal the sick, feed everyone, seek out those far away, and bring everyone home. God will reconcile God’s people to God’s promises. God invites the people to experience a promise others will make but only God can fulfill it.
But If we remember where Ezekiel is when this word from God comes to him, we see God making an extraordinary claim. Ezekiel is in Babylon, preaching and teaching among the exiles. Everyone is far from home. God’s House, and their city are gone, are gone. In a culture where wars were more than just nation against nation but gods vs gods, the destruction of Jerusalem appears to show God being defeated. Babylon’s gods won so how can God claim to be Israel’s shepherd?
This question is at the heart of the experience of the Exiles. They expected a certain amount of material success since they were God’s people. But with Jerusalem destroyed, that expectation is gone. Faith, without material support (i.e. wealth, prestige, fame, etc) can feel like we’re doing faith wrong.
But it’s telling that God, in this passage, doesn’t promise wealth. God doesn’t say that God’s people will end up as rock stars or high priced CEO’s. God promises relationship. Faith isn’t about things; faith is about being connected to the source of everything. God makes a promise to people feeling isolated and alone that God sees them, loves them, and will not give up on them. God’s people have God’s presence and no one, not even the gods and military might of Babylon, can take that away from them.
Each week, I write a reflection on one of our scripture readings for the week. This is from Christ Lutheran Church’s Worship Bulletin for 9/11/2016.