I don’t suppose that many of us think of ourselves as shepherds. While it was a very common employment in the world of Jesus, it is rather far divorced from our urban life in the 21st century. However, if we look at the words of the prophesy of Ezekiel and try to see the shepherd as a metaphor for anyone who is responsible for the care of others, the indictment that Ezekiel issues could be leveled at a number of different occupations with which we are more familiar.
We don’t have to stretch too far to see the pastor of a parish as a shepherd. The word “pastor” is etymologically related to the concept of shepherds and sheep. However, it is possible to see parents, employers, teachers, managers, directors, foreman and women, head nurses, etc. as shepherds. They are all responsible for groups of people who fall under their charge and are the subjects of their ministrations. Consequently, the oracle which Ezekiel speaks today could be applied to anyone in an administrative role. Parents are shepherds of their children, teachers are shepherds of their students, employers are shepherds of their employees, and so forth.
Throughout the Scriptures, both Hebrew and Christian, some of the strongest words are directed at those who are “in charge.” Their failure to act in accord with what is best for others earns them a special kind of condemnation from the prophets and from Jesus. In today’s reading from the Prophet Ezekiel, we read: “Look! I am coming against these shepherds. I will take my sheep out of their hand and put a stop to their shepherding my flock, so that these shepherds will no longer pasture them. I will deliver my flock from their mouths so it will not become their food” (Ezekiel 34:10). In the Gospels, Jesus is just as strong: “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea” (Matthew 18:6).
It would be rather easy for us to simply look at this passage from Ezekiel as pertaining to someone other than ourselves. However, in many different ways, we are all responsible for others; we are all shepherds of one kind or another.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator