The final verse of Ezekiel 34 adds an unexpected comment. It begins by reiterating the metaphor of God as Israel's shepherd: "You are my flock, the flock of my pasture" (34:31). But then it adds, unexpectedly, "You are human, and I am your God." The original Hebrew of this verse includes the word adam, which means "human" or "humankind." It's as if Ezekiel wants us to know that we are not actually sheep, but human beings who are like sheep.
Over the years, I have heard people object to the shepherd-sheep metaphor as insulting. "Sheep are really stupid," they claim. "Who would want to be God's sheep?" My answer is an enthusiastic: "I would!" Yes, I suppose that in some ways I'm not as dull as a sheep. But, with all of my superior intelligence, I can actually get into a lot more trouble than a sheep. And I can cause a lot more trouble for others.
I'm not insulted by the fact that God pictures himself as my good shepherd. In fact, I'm greatly relieved. I spend so much of my life in charge of things. I always feel responsible, even for that which is really not my business. In much of my life, I'm expected to be the one who solves problems and comes up with answers. Mostly, I'm honored to play this role. But, every now and then, the responsibility placed on me is a heavy burden. Moreover, I am all too aware of how much I do not know, how easily I can mess things up. So the fact that, in relationship with God, I can be a dense sheep is really rather reassuring to me. How glad I am that I have an all-wise, all-good, all-loving shepherd who is looking out for me!
In fact, when I have gone through difficult times in my life, I have found great comfort in the timeless words of Psalm 23: "The LORD is my shepherd. I lack nothing. He lets me rest in grassy meadows; he leads me to restful waters; he keeps me alive. He guides me in proper paths for the sake of his good name. Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no danger because you are with me. Your rod and your staff–they protect me. You set a table for me right in front of my enemies. You bathe my head in oil; my cup is so full it spills over! Yes, goodness and faithful love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the LORD's house as long as I live." Amen and amen!
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: When you think of yourself as one of God's sheep, how do you feel? What difference does it make to you that you have God as your good shepherd?
PRAYER: Gracious God, my good shepherd, how utterly grateful I am that you care for me. Compared with your wisdom, I am rather like a dull sheep. What a relief to know that I can be who I am with you! I don't have to pretend. I don't have to come up with all the answers. I can rely on your superior knowledge, strength, and grace. Hallelujah!
May I live all of my days as a grateful member of your flock, dear Shepherd! Amen.