Friday, 8 May 2009

Ezekiel 34:11-16

Along the corridors of Cefn Coed Mental health Hospital where I work as part-time chaplain, are a series of paintings by different artists. Some, no doubt, are painted by the patients themselves. I was walking along the corridor with a patient one day when we stopped before one of them. It was the colourful picture of flowering bushes and dense foliage. The patient asked me how many birds I could see in the picture. I looked hard. I had passed the picture many times in the last six years glancing at it every now and again never even noticing one bird let alone others. At first I thought I could count five. But then I looked harder and after several minutes got up to twenty one. The patient told me she had once counted 27! I was amazed. It’s amazing what you can see if you give enough time and concentration to something.

What is true of that picture is true of the scriptures. A cursory glance or a quick run through may tell you something, but is is only by spending time and looking more closely that we see that there is much more to it than meets the eye.

Our reading this morning is from the prophet Ezekiel. Lets have a clsoe look at it and see if we can identify who the prophet is talking about.

Look at verses 11-12 (from the Church in Wales Book of Common Prayer 1984). At first glance it seems obvious that it is God:

“Thus says the Lord God: “I, I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock when some of his sheep have been scattered abroad, so will I seek out my sheep.”

Looking at it closer there are echoes here, surely, of one of the psalms, psalm 23 where David, talking about God,writes:

“The Lord is my shepherd, therefore can I lack nothing. He makes me to lie down in green pastures.” (Psalm 23:1-2)

Look again at verse 14:

“I will feed them with good pasture; there they shall lie down in good grazing land, and on fat pasture they shall feed on the mountains of Israel.”

So quite clearly it is God, promising to be the shepherd of his people. But can we identify anyone else in the passage? Look at verse 16:

“I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the srippled, and I will strengthen the weak.”

Does any of this sound familiar? Listen to these words from St. Luke’s Gospel:

“For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.” (Luke 19:10)

Who is this Son of Man? It is Jesus. And in those whords from Luke he has just emerged from the house of one Zaccheus whom he has ‘found’ and brought back to God. Here is the full quote:

“Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.” (Luke 19:9-10)

So we have identified two individuals being referred to in this passage from Ezekiel. God and Jesus. But let’s look still closer and think about what is being promised here in verse 11. God sasy: “Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep.”

“I, I myself” means God personally. Not someone else, a substitute of representative, but God. But how is this possible? How can God, in person, come and search for his sheep? To answer that question we need to go to the beginning of the New Testament and the birth of Jesus where these words were written of him:

“All this took place,” writes Matthew, “to fulfill what the lord has said through the prophet: “the virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” – which means, “God with us.” (Matthew 1:22-23)

It’s amazing what you can see if you look closely enough.

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