Sunday, November 19, 2017

Ezekiel 34.11-16, 20-24: The Persistence of Sheepery

Reign of Christ marks the last Sunday in the lectionary year. The next week we start a new liturgical year and a new lectionary year (B). For this final Sunday in A, the reading from Hebrew scripture returns to the world of...sheep (Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24).

Through the year, scripture tells of lost and found sheep, of sheep gone astray, and of sheep in God's pastures. In hundreds of references, sheep have been held up as models and examples. Sometimes good examples, sometimes not so much. Sheep have been stand-ins for the people of God. They have been described as "without blemish". They have been sacrifice and economic source. They have been the means of atonement and the main course at the feast. They have been tithe of the people and practice for future kings. They have been everywhere.

And now the year ends...with sheep. Most folks may think more of bones than of sheep when considering the writings of the prophet Ezekiel, but God's message here is every bit as life-affirming as the moment with the dry bones. The affirmation is possible mostly because the scripture passage isn't so much about the sheep as about the shepherd.

God says: I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land; and I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the watercourses, and in all the inhabited parts of the land. I will feed them with good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel shall be their pasture; there they shall lie down in good grazing land, and they shall feed on rich pasture on the mountains of Israel.I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord GOD.

And that is how the liturgical year ends: with the shepherd gathering the flock. Scattered, hungry, lost, the sheep are gathered again, are fed, and are rested by God who is their shepherd. Maybe that is the best way to end a year: remembering that though human beings may perpetually be sheep, God has promised to be our shepherd.

The illustration is by German-born illustrator Michael Sowa. Exact source of the illustration is unknown. Sowa has illustrated Sowa's Ark: An Enchanted Bestiary and illustrated A Bear Called Sunday and The Little King December. His movie credits include Wallace & Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit and Amelie. His work is available in posters and card on the internet. 

For thoughts on the Gospel reading for Reign of Christ A, click here.  
For news from the art world (which is related to the themes of the Reign of Christ), click here (which should take you directly to the Art&Faith Matters Facebook page.

No comments:

Post a Comment