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The shepherds of Israel

by Bob Docter –

As we look back through the two thousand years since the birth of the one whose life we celebrate this season it’s good to ask ourselves: Just how much has humanity grown through the eons since creation?

If we think about “things”—gadgets, devices, labor-saving items, improved communication, technology, progress in transportation (etc.)-—the change has been significant. Whether or not these cultural changes represent “growth” is an idiosyncratic determination.

If, instead, we move from an external to an internal focus on the general principles of human interaction articulated by that Babe of Bethlehem as he reached his maturity and his ministry, the answer is “not much.” When one reads the prophets’ pleas moving from “imminent doom to ultimate hope,” it appears that the human condition of self-centered individualism has been alive and well for quite some time.

The message of God through these prophets is remarkably consistent as he tries to bring an anarchistic, chaotic tribe into some kind of order and a closer relationship with him.

He gave us a mind with which we crave autonomy, individuality, freedom and the power to choose. Additionally, he gave us faith, a desire to believe without evidence in something greater than ourselves—in some kind of orderliness between peoples; and he gave us compassion, an impulse to engage in an active helping relationship with those marginalized or ignored by the general society. This consistent message reverberates through the Pentateuch and the prophets. Jesus, himself, read it in the synagogue at Nazareth as he began his ministry. He read from Isaiah:

The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

He rolled up the scroll and sat down, and with all eyes on him, he said:

Today, this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.

It was long believed that this passage in Isaiah described the responsibilities of Messiah, the Christ, and the citizens of Nazareth who heard him did not take well to this statement by a “carpenter’s son.”

During his ministry, Jesus focused his criticism on the nation’s political and spiritual leadership. They failed to care for those least among them, and instead, focused only on themselves. The prophets warned against this. And for Jesus, caring for the least was an essential criterion for citizenship in the kingdom of God.

“God’s Message came to me…”

Thus said the prophet Ezekiel, exiled in Babylon, as he took this dictation from God and reported it to the Jewish people.

Son of man, prophesy against the shepherd-leaders of Israel.
Yes, prophesy!
Tell those shepherds, “God, the Master, says:
Doom to you shepherds of Israel, feeding your own mouths!
Aren’t shepherds supposed to feed sheep?
You drink the milk, you make clothes from the wool,
you roast the lambs, but you don’t feed the sheep.
You don’t build up the weak ones,
don’t heal the sick,
don’t doctor the injured,
don’t go after the strays,
don’t look for the lost.
You bully and badger them.
And now they’re scattered every which way
because there was no shepherd—
scattered and easy picking for wolves and coyotes.
Scattered—my sheep!—exposed and vulnerable
across mountains and hills
My sheep scattered all over the world,
and no one looking out for them!

“Therefore, shepherds, listen to the Message of God:
As sure as I am the living God—Decree of God, the Master—
because my sheep have been turned into mere prey,
into easy meals for wolves
because you shepherds ignored them
and only fed yourselves,
listen to what God has to say:
Watch out! …”
Ezekiel 34:1-10 – The Message

Throughout the world The Salvation Army battles poverty, disease, despair, substance abuse, hunger, thirst, malnutrition, and most importantly, those who are lost —the scattered. We try to be on the lookout for them because we’re The Salvation Army. We are imbued with compassion that demands we seek and find them. We take care of their physical needs, we attend to their emotional needs, and we provide them with an opportunity to choose or not to come back into the fold.

Often, because we’re so busy and active, we have delegated much of this responsibility to professionals over the past several decades. As a result, our personal interaction with the least among us, has been limited to a referral role to the “hired” social workers. They do a wonderful job, but, I believe, we have moved too far in the direction of self-centeredness. We miss out on the personal growth God had in mind when he directed all of us to engage in this ministry.

Every soldier needs to be involved.

What can you do?

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