Environmental Stewardship Commission (MEESC)

Episcopal Diocese of Minnesota

Lectionary Reflection Year B, Easter 4

Ezekiel 34:1-10

The word of the LORD came to me: Mortal, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel: prophesy, and say to them – to the shepherds: Thus says the Lord GOD: Ah, you shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! 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. You have not strengthened the weak, you have not healed the sick, you have not bound up the injured, you have not brought back the strayed, you have not sought the lost, but with force and harshness you have ruled them. So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd; and scattered, they became food for all the wild animals. My sheep were scattered, they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill; my sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with no one to search or seek for them. Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD: As I live, says the Lord GOD, because my sheep have become a prey, and my sheep have become food for all the wild animals, since there was no shepherd; and because my shepherds have not searched for my sheep, but the shepherds have fed themselves, and have not fed my sheep; therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD: Thus says the Lord GOD, I am against the shepherds; and I will demand my sheep at their hand, and put a stop to their feeding the sheep; no longer shall the shepherds feed themselves. I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, so that they may not be food for them.

Acts 4: (23-31) 32-37

[After they were released, Peter and John went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them. When they heard it, they raised their voices together to God and said, "Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth, the sea, and everything in them, it is you who said by the Holy Spirit through our ancestor David, your servant:

`Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples imagine vain things? The kings of the earth took their stand, and the rulers have gathered together against the Lord and against his Messiah.'

For in this city, in fact, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. And now, Lord, look at their threats, and grant to your servants to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus." When they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness.] Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. There was a Levite, a native of Cyprus, Joseph, to whom the apostles gave the name Barnabas (which means "son of encouragement"). He sold a field that belonged to him, then brought the money, and laid it at the apostles' feet.

1 John 3:1-8

See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God's children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.

Everyone who commits sin is guilty of lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. You know that he was revealed to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him sins; no one who sins has either seen him or known him. Little children, let no one deceive you. Everyone who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. Everyone who commits sin is a child of the devil; for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The Son of God was revealed for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil..

John 10: 11-16

Jesus said, "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away – and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd."

Reflection on John 10:11-16 (also Ezekiel 34:1-10; Acts 4:32-37; I John 3:1-8) by John Gibbs, PhD

The Resurrection Community is the focus of all the texts appointed for the 4th Sunday in Easter season. Relationships between sheep and Shepherd are the center of attention. At issue is the nature of Christian community, first in the Church but also anywhere else. For most of us, sheep herding is not a matter of experience, but we do experience contrasts between genuine and false leadership. We do experience the difference between nurturing leadership that builds up community and, on the other hand, dominating management styles that demoralize or even destroy any community of purpose among the workforce. We may not know literal shepherds and their sheep, but we recognize the central point that these texts make about interactions between leadership and community.

In a country where the wealthiest 1% own 40% of that country’s wealth, and at a time when a CEO on averages makes 500 times the average income at the bottom of workers’ pay-scale, we can see that we are at the opposite end from that early Christian community in which “everything they owned was held in common” (Acts 4:32).

At a place and time that sees golden parachutes rewarding top leadership with millions of dollars in severance pay even while those who labored under them have been pressured to take painful cuts in pay, we very well know what the prophet Ezekiel meant when he envisions the Lord God saying: “Ah, you shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? …You have not strengthened the weak, you have not healed the sick, you have not bound up the injured, …you have not sought the lost, but with force and harshness you have ruled them.” (Ez. 34:2-4)

In contrast to profit motives and bottom line thinking that owe allegiance to no values above self-preservation and corporate growth, the Resurrection Community orders her life with the conviction that “we should be called children of God, and that is what we are” (I John 3:1). Chaotic “lawlessness” (3:4), which is equated with not loving our brothers and sisters (3:10), is displaced by a commanding vision of God that ennobles the everyday life of this community and fills it with “hope” (3:2-3). The Resurrection Community lives with a sense of destiny and calling, for though we do not know the future, “What we do know is this: when [God] is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is” (3:2).

The Church learns how to live with others (both within the church, and within religious groups and cultures) because the One who leads her “lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11). Not a “hired hand” (whether laborer or CEO), not a “thief” (whether stock analyst or brokerage house), but “the good shepherd” leads this community in such a way that his “voice” is familiar to everyone in the community. “I know my own and my own know me” (10:14). “So there will be one flock, one shepherd” (10:16). Not only does the Resurrection Community have a sense of her destiny and of God’s own future. She is also rooted in the history of those who had prepared the way for them to live as God’s People today. Both Jesus and the author of this gospel were steeped in the history of this “good Shepherd” motif, going back for instance to the commissioning of Joshua to succeed Moses (Number 27:16-17).

At issue in all these texts is the nature of Christian community, first in the Church but also anywhere and everywhere else. Sometimes the way we live in general determines the way we live within the Church, but those are the times when the Resurrection is obscured from view or outright rejected. The Resurrection Community, however, is distinguished from other communities by the extension of the Shepherd’s way of life out beyond the walls of the Church into the surrounding world. Therein lies the relevance of Church for Creation.

As we humans live among ourselves, so we live among all creatures. We cannot help being ourselves wherever we are. Who we are within our personal selves and within our human communities, is who we are on the ecological landscape. If we have learned from the Good Shepherd how to care for one another, we have thereby learned how to care for one another’s land, air, water, plants, animals, and entire household of life forms.

[Scripture quotations from NRSV: New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved]

Copyright Statement

John Gibbs, PhD, a retired theologian, attends Trinity Episcopal Church, Park Rapids, MN. He originally wrote this reflection in 2003. He and we welcome your comments. Please address your comments or additional reflections to John Gibbs or any MEESC member, or mail them to:
MEESC Holy Trinity Church Box 65 Elk River, MN 55330-0065 USA

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