Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24 Last Sunday of the Church Year
Picture if you will, Jesus standing in a field of lush green grass on a bright sun shine-filled day, and laying in His arms, is a sheep.
And immediately in your minds is the perfect caption: Jesus is the Good Shepherd; this little sheep was lost, or sick, or in trouble, and Jesus Himself comes and rescues the sheep and brings Him back to the fold, where He rejoins the other sheep.
And once Jesus has let down the lost sheep to rejoin the rest of the flock, He returns to the task that He was engaged in before the emergency search for the lost sheep. And He brings over to the butcher block a fat sheep, and He slaughters it.
Leave it to an Old Testament prophet to ruin everyone’s favorite image of Christ.
Of course, this is not the end of the story. There is a perfectly good reason that Jesus is slaughtering the fat sheep of the flock: it is to spare the weak, the sick, and the dying. The fat sheep are being struck down, and the weak and the lowly are being spared.
That is not what they teach you in Sheep Herding 101. You are supposed to do the exact opposite: get rid of the weak and the sick, and encourage the fat and the strong. After all, would not the fat and the strong sheep breed more fat and strong sheep, whereas the weak and the sick would only yield more weak and sick sheep? That is not a great theological discovery, it is basic science. Healthy sheep breed more healthy sheep; sick sheep breed more sick sheep. Kill the sick, keep the strong.
But leave it to an Old Testament prophet to ruin everyone’s basic ideas of care for flocks and herds.
Turns out there is a problem with fat and strong sheep: they tend to get the idea that they are self-sufficient. They do not need the Good Shepherd, or a mediocre shepherd, or even a poor shepherd. After all, if you are fat and strong, you can survive and go it alone without the need of any shepherd at all.
And when life is good, the fat and the strong must not be doing anything wrong, so the prayers and the devotion are focused on one thing and one thing only: Dear Lord, let the good times roll.
And so the fat and the strong sheep, who have no need of a shepherd, are slaughtered, for if they have no need of the Lord, than the Lord has no need of them.
Leave it to an Old Testament prophet to ruin everyone’s day.
After all, the past few Sunday’s, we have been hearing about the coming of Christ and how it will be a great and glorious day when He comes, and how as the faithful, baptized believers, we will be welcomed into the heavenly kingdom with open arms.
After all, you are not fat sheep are you?
Would fat sheep gather, and pray that God would inflict great suffering and punishment upon this nation, and upon every nation that allowed such things as abortion and homosexuality to run rampant in its midst? Would fat sheep gather and pray that God would strip this nation of its power and glory as punishment for the gross immorality and greed that displays itself so publicly day and night in its culture?
No, fat sheep would not pray that prayer at all; instead, they would gather, and pray that God would bless this nation, and make it greater still, overlooking the sins committed daily, and say, well at least we are better than those other guys.
Would fat sheep pray that God would burn down the idols that so populate the communities of this nation, whether they be schools, or gymnasiums, or businesses, or even churches? Would fat sheep ask God to cause banks to fail, so that the massive wealth stored in them would be lost, and that we might know what true charity really is?
No, fat sheep would not pray that prayer at all; instead, they would gather, and pray that God would bless these communities, and preserve them another generation, overlooking the golden calves that surround us, and say, yes, we may have a problem, but at least it is under control.
Would fat sheep sit in sackcloth and ashes, looking at one another in disgrace and shame for their failure to help those in need, to visit the sick and the imprisoned, to clothe the naked and feed the hungry? Would fat sheep hang their heads in absolute shame for the countless missed opportunities of inviting someone to church, or of failing to speak a word of Gospel to someone stricken with the Law?
No, fat sheep would not pray that prayer at all; instead, they would gather and pray that God would bless them, and those agencies that support those in need. Fat sheep would pray that others would hear the Gospel in some way, just not through the lips of their mouths.
Thank goodness we are not fat sheep.
Or are we?
Turns out, not all sheep are created equal. And it turns out that the Church is over populated with fat sheep. Fat sheep that need to be slaughtered.
And that is why fat sheep need a Savior to.
For there is a member of the flock that is going to be slaughtered. There is one sheep that is going to be bound and gagged, and have His throat slit so that the blood oozes out and soaks the ground.
But that sheep that is slaughtered will not be you, and it won’t be me either. You and I may deserve to be slaughtered for our acting like fat sheep; but there is another whose blood will be shed.
Jesus is the Lamb taken from the flock that is sacrificed in your stead. Jesus is bound and gagged, and His throat is slit, and His blood soaks the ground, not yours.
For that is what the Good Shepherd does: He lays down His life for the sheep; even for the fat sheep.
Even the fat sheep who want to see change for the better, as long as it does not affect them. Even the fat sheep who want to see the idols knocked down, as long as it is not their idol. Even the fat sheep who want to do good, as long as someone else does it.
Even fat sheep need to repent. Even fat sheep need a Savior, for even fat sheep need a Good Shepherd.
Even fat sheep need to hear that their sins are forgiven by the blood of Jesus that is shed on the cross. Even fat sheep need to come and receive the body and blood of Christ. Even fat sheep need the cool and gentle waters of Holy Baptism.
There is a Savior for fat sheep. For fat sheep are just as broken, just as weak, just as burdened, just as condemned under the curse of sin as the rest of the flock. Jesus came for fat sheep, just as He came for the sick and the lowly.
Leave it to an Old Testament prophet to take everyone’s favorite image of Christ, and apply it to you as well.
Hear again the words of the prophet, and know that Jesus is your Good Shepherd, who came and rescued you out of death and hell, so that you might have life and salvation.
Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. And 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 ravines, and in all the inherited places of the country. I will feed them with good pasture, and on the mountain heights of Israel shall be their grazing land. There they shall lie down in good grazing land, and on rich pasture they shall feed on the mountains of Israel. I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord God. I will seek the lost and bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak….
I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd. And I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them. I am the Lord, I have spoken