6 December Jeremiah 23: 3–6
A few weeks ago, my husband Stephen and I went to see the latest version of Disney’s The Lion King, with the most up-to-date animation techniques. The film has been a favourite of mine for a good few years, and tells the story of Simba, a newborn lion cub and his father, the king of the jungle, Mufasa. As a youngster Simba doesn’t agree with the way his father does things, and in the song ‘I just can’t wait to be king’ Simba tells how he would do things if he were king, saying, ‘I’m gonna be the main effect, like no other king before, free to run around all day, free to do it all my way.’ Prior to the reading from Jeremiah 23, the last five kings of Judah were Josiah (the last good king prior to the Babylonian exile who tore down the places of pagan worship and led his people to worship Yahweh), and Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, Jehoichin and Zedikiah, who might well have said to themselves ‘I just can’t wait to be king’, but sadly they were all deemed to be ‘shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of God’s pasture’ (v.1), leading the people of God from one disaster to another.
Shepherds, because of their care for their sheep, became a metaphor for other leaders, such as kings, priests, and prophets, so ‘shepherd’ in this case refers to kings. A good shepherd does not scatter the sheep, because the flock cannot be defended from wolves and bears if the sheep are scattered. What is needed is a good shepherd who will protect the flock. We know, from the gospels, that Jesus taught about lost sheep and good shepherds, and according to John’s gospel he said of himself, ‘I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep’. Was this a lesson he learned in the wilderness?
What about today’s shepherds, who will look after the flock? Sheep come in many different breeds, but not so the human shepherd. As ordinary men and women we must choose to be good shepherds (or kings?) who care for the flock with justice and mercy. Incidentally, when he’s grown up and returns from the wilderness, Simba a wins a battle over evil Scar, takes his rightful place as king and restores a peace to Pride Rock. I wonder where these filmmakers get their ideas from!
Into your presence, may we come, Saviour, Shepherd and King, Your servants, with our offering of worship, thanksgiving and song. Gifts from our riches and gifts from our poverty; gifts to Jesus, Shepherd and King.
(by John Birch, from his website ‘Faith and Worship’, slightly adapted)