Word for the day by Christian Education Forum
Priest: Ambassadors of Christ
In Ezekiel 33:1-9, God reviews Ezekiel's call to be a watchman for the nation. The image or metaphor is used in the book to describe Ezekiel’s prophetic role — he is to warn people of coming danger. The theme of the watchman is familiar to us in the Hebrew Scriptures. In Isaiah, there are many moving words: “Watchman what of the night? Watchman, what of the night?” And the answer comes back: “Morning comes, and also the night” (Isaiah 21:11-12). The answer means that even though the morning has come, there are dangers still lurking in the shadows of the night. God says to the prophet Ezekiel: “Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel” (Ezekiel 3:17).
While in other texts the prophet is asked to warn his people, in this text the prophet himself is warned by God... “But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet to warn the people and the sword comes and takes someone’s life, that person’s life will be taken because of their sin, but I will hold the watchman accountable for their blood.” (Ezekiel 33:6) Like a watchman at the city gate, responsible for warning the city's inhabitants of enemy threat, Ezekiel is personally responsible for proclaiming God's impending judgment and encouraging repentance. This is a very serious warning indeed. If we who are called to be watchmen for the people are indifferent, careless, and complacent, if we are ignorant, insensitive, and defensive, and so fail to warn the people entrusted to our care, we are accountable to God.
Spreading the hope of restoration
The prophecies of Ezekiel ranged over a period of thirty years, from 593 to 563 B.C. During this time, Jerusalem was captured and destroyed by the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar. In 587 B.C., most of the people were taken as exiles to Babylon. They were difficult and uncertain times for the people. Ezekiel’s prophecies fall into two sections: prophecies of warning and judgment before the exile, and prophecies of comfort and hope during and after the exile. Chapter 33 comes in the middle, forming a pastoral link between the two, where the task of the watchman gently slides to that of the shepherd. Ezekiel was in exile when he heard of the news of the fall of Jerusalem. But later on, when he heard the news, Ezekiel voluntarily went there in order to be with his suffering people to comfort and strengthen them in their tribulations “To a helpless and hopeless people, he brought hope of restoration”. His was an unparalleled ministry during the years of suffering, uncertainty, and hope.
The first lesson for July 10 (Sunday)emphasizes the task of the watchman (Ezekiel 33:1-7) and the gospel portion lays stress on the responsibility of the shepherd (John 10:1-11). The task of the watchman is to warn people of impending danger. The responsibility of the shepherd is to provide shelter, security, and nourishment, and in times of danger, to keep the flock together. It is a combination of these two, being both watchmen and shepherds, that forms our calling to be ministers of the gospel.
The watchman/shepherd role of a leader requires sacrifice. Christian leaders, imitating Christ, must prioritize the welfare of their followers, demonstrating genuine care. In his classic book, The Prophetic Imagination, theologian Walter Brueggemann gives voice to the role of the prophet in honoring the ministry of imagination. Brueggemann writes: “The task of prophetic ministry is to nurture, nourish, and evoke a consciousness and a perception that is an alternative to the consciousness and perception of the dominant culture around us.”
Prioritizing the needs of the faithful
The contemporary world is full of deception and Christian leaders have the task of exposing false teachings through their effective teaching ministry. The truth must be taught to expel falsehood, just as light expels darkness. By doing so, shepherd leadership facilitates growth, maturity, and prosperity. The sheep must also follow the shepherd and remain under his/her care to avoid being stolen by the thief and eventually being destroyed. The authority, power, and privileges that come with leadership are meant for service to God and to humanity. The prime goal of the leader must be to provide services that will make society a better place to live. A servant leader is “seen as a servant first” and exercises power without coercion.
Similarly, Christian leaders must not exalt themselves or be served; they must serve God and humanity. The role of the leader implies accountability. Accountability requires the honest use of power. To be an effective role model for followers, one has to build close relationships with them. As the leader moves ahead, he/she has to ensure that the followers are following along. Those who stray away must be brought back on track; those who grow weary must be strengthened; those who are discouraged must be motivated, and those who need extra guidance must be given the needed counsel. In this way, leaders exercise power with benevolence.
Pope Francis said priests should be “people capable of living, of laughing, and crying with your people; in a word, of communicating with them”. He said priesthood isolated from the people of God is neither priesthood nor a Christian one. “Strip yourselves of your pre-constituted ideas, your dreams of greatness, your self-assertion, in order to put God and people at the center of your daily concerns,” the Pope said, stressing that a pastor is one who puts God’s holy faithful people at the center. A priest has to be a pastor in the midst of God’s people because God has chosen him for that. The primary function of a priest is to assist people in accessing God so that there can be unity with God. A priest is a bridge-builder between humanity and God. The sacrifice that God demands is a total sacrifice of time, energy, and service.
How do we recognize the voice of the good shepherd in the midst of conflicting voices? Jesus said: The thief comes to steal, to kill, to destroy; I have come so that people may have life, and may have it in all its fullness. I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The false shepherds come to rob, kill and destroy the sheep. The good shepherd loves his sheep to the extent that he lays down his life for the sake of his sheep. He risks his life to save the sheep. His whole concern is for the sheep. The false shepherd destroys life. The good shepherd saves a life. The voice of the good shepherd is the voice of sacrificing love for his sheep. The sheep will recognize it and will follow him. Only when the church is able to suffer for others will she become a reconciling agent and the community of the good shepherd
Vicar ,Nooranad Salem M T C
Christian Education Forum, Diocese of NAE of the Mar Thoma Church