On Guard for Wolves in Shepherd's Clothing (Jeremiah 23:1-6)
By Rev. Keith Anderson
This year's bruising presidential election ended in shocking fashion in the early hours of last Wednesday morning when Hillary Clinton conceded the race to now president-elect Donald Trump.
Much of the focus of the election had been on leadership, temperament, experience, and fitness to lead the country. And already, in the hours and days following the election, political pundits are speculating on what kind of president Trump will be. Will he continue his inflammatory and divisive rhetoric, or will he modulate? What kind of leaders will he choose for his cabinet and staffing the administration? How will Republicans use their congressional majority? How will newly elected leaders at all levels of government conduct themselves?
The possible answers to these questions have energized some and terrified others, and our nation remains deeply divided.
Christ, Still the King
Therefore, the observance of Christ the King Sunday, the final Sunday and culmination of the liturgical calendar, comes at a most opportune time. Just days after we elect a person to be the most powerful person on the planet, this liturgical feast day reminds us that no matter who is elected, God is still sovereign over all the universe-and that God in Christ is the true model for moral and just leadership.
In fact, the observance of Christ the King was inaugurated by Pope Pius XI 1925 in the attempt resist political demagogues and their messages, people at that time like Mussolini and Hitler. One commentator writes, "The pope thought that the time was right for a refocusing on the One who is ultimately the king in our lives as people of faith."
This is not to suggest that it doesn't matter who is elected because God is still in charge no matter what. Not at all. Elections have far reaching consequences. Nor does it suggest that people should or must unify and get behind this new president that they didn't vote for.
However, we can, at times, risk thinking of any one political platform as synonymous with the call of the Gospel; we can mistake the will of the people for God's will, and one candidate's vision for the world with God's own vision for creation and humanity. Christ the King reminds us that God reigns above all and for all now and forever.
Woe to the Shepherds
The Scriptures are filled with stories of political and religious leaders misusing power, misunderstanding God's call, and failing to be faithful to God and God's people.
In the book of Jeremiah, the prophet Jeremiah excoriates leaders for their failure to live and lead faithfully and he relentlessly calls them to account for it. In chapter 23, he prophesies to them:
"Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! says the LORD. ...concerning the shepherds who shepherd my people: It is you who have scattered my flock, and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. So I will attend to you for your evil doings.... Then I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the lands where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing, says the LORD."
False leaders, like false shepherds, do not gather the flock but rather scatter the sheep and drive them apart. True leaders, like true shepherds, gather and protect the flock, leading the flock to pastures of abundance and safety, seeking out the lost, the weak, the stragglers, and brings them home.
Today many individuals and communities-the LGBTQ community, Muslims, immigrants, Hispanics, women, communities of color-feel scattered and vulnerable. They have deep concerns not only about governance and policy platforms, but for their own well-being and safety, their own legal status in the country. In the days since the election, over two hundred hate crimes have been committed against minority groups. We must stand with our vulnerable neighbors and do everything we can to insist that our leaders do the same. We must reject hate, violence, and work to preserve each person's dignity and human rights.
The Scriptural test for faithful leadership and faithful living is always how we treat the most vulnerable among us, whether it is the trinity of the widow, the orphan, the foreigner in the Hebrew Scriptures, or the sick, the outcast, the possessed, the poor, the "unclean," the forgotten, the "other," and the invisible that Jesus sees and heals in the Gospels.
Every act of love, Jesus show us, is an act of resistance to the forces of darkness, division, and hate.
King on a Cross
Jesus exemplified and embodied this leadership throughout his ministry, and in his death and resurrection. In John 10 Jesus described himself as the Good Shepherd, who lays down life for his sheep-and who has sheep in other folds beyond our own. He is a shepherd that seeks the lost and the missing, and he demonstrated this nowhere clearer than on the cross.
On the cross, he is derided by a criminal and mocked by soldiers. He is beaten, bruised, and dying, and yet still has the presence and the grace to say, "Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing." Perhaps Jesus prays that same prayer over us now as he looks down on our hurting, divided, and anxious world.
Jesus and Jeremiah show us that leadership ought not be self-serving but self-emptying, ought not be self-aggrandizing but committed to humble service, with a special concern for the most vulnerable. Jesus shows us this: no great love or leadership has anyone than this than to lay down one's life for others. This is what we will be watching to see from our newly chosen leaders.
In the days ahead, let us pray that our newly elected leaders and newly formed administration will heed God's call to mercy and justice, and renounces the forces of hate already manifesting themselves. And if it doesn't, may we, with Jeremiah, relentlessly hold them to account and call them-and exhort one another-to God's shepherding way.
Bible Study Questions:
Our elected leaders can be likened to shepherds, leading us and creating policies that will insure green pastures for all. Where have you seen examples of politicians leading like the good shepherd the scripture references?
What does it mean to be a good shepherd? What are some references from Keith's commentary that resonate with you and what are your thoughts?
As citizens, do we have a responsibility to call our shepherd leaders into account? What are some of the ways we can do that? What have you seen work?
For Further Reading:
The End of White Christian America by Robert P. Jones
Freedom from Fear: And Other Writings by Aung San Suu Kyi
Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive through the Dangers of Leading by Ronald A. Heifetz and Marty Linsky
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