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Misericordias Domini
1999, April 18th
Esekiel 34, 1-6.9-16
Prof. Dr. Ludwig Schmidt

Prof. Dr. Ludwig Schmidt
Ezekiel 34: 1-6
Misericordias Domini

Some things never change were my thoughts as I read the critical bible text about the shepherds of Israel. Of course, one cannot put the blame entirely on the men and women who have leading positions in politics, economics or the Church. Many of them are fully aware of their responsibilities and carry out their duties to the best of their abilities. But for the others, the two accusations made against the shepherds, raise the same questions. The first being, you live from the herd but you don't feed them. The shepherds were not criticized for clothing and feeding themselves from the herd, that is their perfect right. The envy towards "those above us" lies somewhat further away from our text, in which we do not begrudge the earnings and other advantages that these people have through their high positions. Criticism stems from the fact that some of these people use these positions only to gain money and high esteem.
There are such "shepherds" in our world today. Occasionally a man or woman decides to enter into politics because they receive a larger income than from their own occupation. Perhaps they want to be exposed to the press or media so that they can feel themselves to be an important person and then they can pursue their own aims and wishes through their political work. They do not see politics as a function to protect and look after the communities, although this should be an undivided commitment. This, the rulers of Israel did not want to accept for the truth. That is why, in the second accusation in the bible text, they were accused of not looking after people in need, as was their duty. They even suppressed the strong who were not dependent on their protection. They were only interested in their own profit and power.
In the text, a woeful picture is painted of the leaders of Israel. Every city is subjected to great damage when people in power fail miserably but Israel wasn't any old nation, God had chosen these people to give his land to and His leaders were to ensure that the nation lived as God's people. With their failure, the rulers of Israel had not only ruined a city but the nation as well. Through their conduct, many Israelites had to leave the land that God had given to them. They went to live in countries where the leaders had different religions to their own.
But God does not leave His people. In the text, He tells us that He will bring back the Israelites to their own land and will personally take over the responsibilities that the leaders failed to do themselves. This promise came true with Jesus Christ. Indeed, God carried out his promise in a somewhat different guise to what was written in the text. Today, Jews live in many different lands and it will probably never happen that they will all come together in Israel, a land that is not, at best, a fat pasture. The people there must work hard for their existence.
God keeps his promise but keeps to himself how he will carry it out. With Jesus, God goes beyond the promises he makes in our bible reading. Jesus is not only the good shepherd for the people of the Old Testament but also for Jews and non-Jews. For all and everyone of us, He gave His life on the cross. There lies the difference between Him and the rulers of Israel, whose only intent was to reap their own advantages. Even as He was dying, he proved to be the good shepherd and because He rose again from the dead, even today, He fulfills God's promise made in the text:
"I will seek that which was lost, and bring again that which was driven away, and will bind up that which was broken, and will strengthen that which was sick,: but I will destroy the fat and the strong; I will feed them with judgement."
Jesus seeks the lost and brings back the wayward. He showed this in an exemplary way how he dealt with the tax collectors and sinners. They went their own way and did not bother about God. In the community that Jesus granted, they found that even for them, God himself was not far away and through this experience, they changed their attitude. This happens just as much today when Jesus enters into someone's life.
There are not only the people who have been brought up in the Christian faith and remain Christian throughout there lives but there are also people who become Christian, although they have not been a member of a religion or shown any interest in God at all. Jesus does not define people to what they are, or writes them off. That is good to know as no-one can guarantee their Christian beliefs. In our lives, we sometimes tread the wrong paths and it can be that our views on life get stuck in a rut. Because Jesus seeks the lost, we can be sure that He brings us back onto the right path.
Jesus binds the wounded and strengthens the weak. Everybody wants to be healthy and strong. They who are healthy, worry about becoming so ill that they need to rely on help from strangers for the rest of their lives. How often does one hear "As long as you have your health, that is all that matters." But no-one knows if they will become a nursing case. Jesus does not guarantee us our health but he will support us when we are weak and miserable. Many people have found comfort from a bible text or thought, to help them through a bad illness. Perhaps, you too have experienced this, or seen it in other people. Jesus binds the wounds of life. We often say "Time heals." Some wounds are not healed with time but the pain dulls. I am thinking, for example, of parents who have to bury their child. That pain stays with them for decades. They ask themselves constantly "Why?" If they feel safe in Jesus, this question will not cease but they will learn to live with it. They will be spared the torment of asking themselves if they did everything they could have, to save their child. This example is given as one of the many pains that have to be endured in our lives.
Jesus protects the fat and strong. When our bible reading was written, even the healthiest and strongest sheep could not survive without a shepherd. They were either eaten by wild animals or they wandered away from the rest and got lost in the wilderness and slowly perished. People too, who at the moment have no problems, are made aware that Jesus is protecting them. One hears over again "The Christian faith is only there for the weak. On the contrary, I am strong and can master my life myself." But whoever lives without Jesus will be consumed by death. He has no hope that transcends his earthly life and that is a shame as Jesus said that his sheep will find everlasting life with God. For that, he died and arose again. Through him, our lives have a purpose beyond death. Of course, we stand in danger of losing sight of our goals. Our thoughts are often taken over by the everyday demands and problems. In our pluralistic age, we jostle against several philosophies and religions. They can gain ones attention so strongly, that people don't know in which direction to go. We depend on Jesus to keep the objective of everlasting life before our eyes, so that we don't lose sight of our bearings.
With the vow of everlasting life, Jesus reaches out beyond the text where God gathers the scattered sheep and leads them to pasture but does not promise them everlasting life. Through Jesus, this announcement takes on a different meaning. Christians live in the world together with people of various religions and philosophies. One can hardly portray the picture of the sheep feeding off a pasture. Their lives often take the desert paths but this situation will change. In the everlasting life, Christians from all lands and nations and from all times will come together and praise God because there will be no more suffering and death. Then it will be quite plain that Christians really are the herd and have a shepherd.

Prof. Dr. Ludwig Schmidt,
Privat: Karmelitenstraße 15, 91056 Erlangen
Dienstlich: Kochstr. 6, 91054 Erlangen
Tel. 09131 - 852 - 2206, Fax 09131 - 852 - 6506

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