For thus says the Lord God: I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. As shepherds seek out their flocks when they are among their scattered sheep, so I will seek out my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. (Ezekiel 34:11-12)
Today is known in our faith tradition as Christ the King Sunday, yet often the imagery is of God and Jesus as shepherds. The Good Shepherd is a powerful metaphor in our faith. Jesus even teaches about sheep and shepherds at various times. How are kings and shepherds related? Our Lord of Lords, King of Kings, Prince of Peace is Jesus the Christ. Our Messiah is the Good Shepherd. In the same way that Jesus is both fully human and fully divine, Jesus is both king and shepherd.
Shepherding in Biblical times is a bit of a paradox. Sheep provided food, clothing, trade and some level of economic stability for the community. Their value is hard to estimate, and protection of this valuable asset was paramount. So, who did they entrust this precious commodity to? Generally young men barely out of childhood. These relatively weak and inexperienced adolescents had to keep the flock together without allowing any to stray, protect them from predators, keep watch in every type of weather, and try not to fall asleep on the job. Truly, these were essentially among the least powerful individuals in any tribe or village--big responsibility, little power.
Kings, on the other hand, had incredible power, but also almost unbelievable responsibility. Contrary to most caricatures of Caligulas, Neros, and Henrys (1 through 8?), kings were often warriors, benefactors, protectors, and the fate of hundreds or thousands rested on their leadership. A king had responsibility for all his subjects. Most balanced their power and authority with mercy and justice. They could be hard and stern rulers, but the very best were fair and kind.
These two images in combination create an amazing and wonderful paradox. Jesus the Christ is the most powerful and the lowliest, having total responsibility and carrying out his duty faithfully in the very best conditions, as well as the very worst. A King has all the privileges, shepherds almost none. Christ as shepherd and Christ as King is the totality of the human condition, from the most revered and respected in a society to the most despised and degraded. He is regaled and reviled. He is honored and he is ignored. He knows the heights of human experience and the depths. His is a vista of kingdoms and empires, his is the vista of the sheepfold. What an incredible conundrum for us to ponder.
But God in Christ, as shepherd or king, loves his sheep, loves his subjects. He cannot stand for one to be lost. He celebrates their births and mourns their losses, but rejoices in their place in either sheepfold or kingdom. Our God is a loving King, a Good Shepherd, and through Jesus Christ we are all connected to his eternal and unconditional love.
Prayer: Good and faithful Shepherd, mighty and just King, receive the prayers of your faithful sheep and grateful subjects. Allow us to bask in the unfailing love and amazing grace you extend to us all and hold us in the confidence that you will never let us go. We ask this humbly in Jesus’ name. Amen.
May this devotion provide you with a moment of faithful reflection and care. You are involved in ministries of justice and witness, in ministries of standing up and standing with people working to create better systems and communities, in ministries of learning and searching and researching to become more aware and awakened, more technologically savvy and proficient, more virtually and personally present in your churches and communities and world. Each of us who serve as members of your Wisconsin Cabinet write these devotions in grateful prayer for you – for sustenance and buoyancy, for strength and courage, for safety and just actions, and for faith and love to be full and fulfilled in your daily lives. God’s grace and blessings, God’s challenge and healthy discomfort, God’s Spirit and energy be with you, in the hope Christ offers us all.
Bishop Hee-Soo Jung has served as resident bishop of the Wisconsin Annual Conference since September of 2012. Prior to leading the Wisconsin Conference UMC, Bishop Jung served eight years as bishop of the Northern Illinois Conference (Chicago area).