We are fortunate (or at least I think so) in that we live near to the countryside in Wales where there are probably more sheep than people!
There's something reassuringly peaceful about walking through a field of sheep, or watching lambs gamboling around like over-excited children!
But of course sheep are not very self-sufficient, they need looking after - they need their Shepherd to take care of their needs, food to eat, water to drink, safe pasture to graze and protection from harm
The people of Israel understood about shepherds. They were farming folk, growing whatever they needed for food. They kept sheep, goats and cattle, and grew crops of olives, figs, grapes, barley, wheat and flax. Their whole year was tied to the changing seasons, and often disrupted by invading armies and marauding animals and pests.
The life of a shepherd changed little between the days of Old Testament times of Ezekiel and that of Jesus. The shepherd led his sheep, knew each one of them and watched over them by day and night. There was a good reason for this, because the owner would demand recompense for any lost, and if any were attacked by wild animals evidence would have to be shown.
It was a very responsible job.
Ezekiel compares the rulers of the people with the role of shepherd. "Shouldn't shepherds take care of the flock?" he asks. "You're happy enough to exploit the flock under your control, but that's not really caring for them. There's no compassion, no love, no justice. You've let them run wild, and what happens when the sheep run off out of sight? They end up in the undesirable company of wolves." (Chapter 34)
What a contemporary message for us. Think of multi-national companies. The remoteness of the worker from the man (or woman) at the top. All those "fat cat" salaries that we hear about.
And then there's the continuing problem of slavery, indentured workers and expointed employees forced to work in often dangerous conditions so that we can have inexpensive clothing to wear and dispose of so easily.
Naturally enough, God says that he's not happy with the picture as painted by Ezekiel, and he's not going to let it continue. The solution is simple - God himself will take over the responsibility that had previously been delegated to the earthly shepherds.
"I will rescue them from all the places where they are scattered... and gather them from the countries and bring them into their own land."
The prophesy is of God the good shepherd bringing his people out of exile, but the language is messianic.......... "I will bind up the injured and strengthen the week...... I will shepherd the flock with justice.... I will search for the lost and bring back the strays."
Even if not originally intended - and who are we to say - what a picture of the life and purpose of Jesus, who would appear as the Good Shepherd some 400+ years after this prophesy. We read similar words in Isaiah "He tends His flock like a shepherd; He gathers the lambs in His arms and carries them close to His heart."
What a difference it would make if those who have responsibility over so many people, be it as heads of state, politicians or heads of industry and business throughout the world saw their main priority and responsibility as that of shepherd!