In Jeremiah 23:1-8, God speaks through the prophet condemning those who set themselves up as “shepherds” of God’s people, yet use their position to take advantage of and use others. This is a message close to my heart, as growing up at one point my family attended a church where there was a preacher who begged for those struggling’s tithes and offerings that later people found out funneled the funds into private wealth. We see it all the times in news reports of preachers buying private jets and building fancy homes out of the tithes of struggling poor church members. Some use religion to prey on the weak, those seeking hope. God clearly condemns such people here, reminding us that it is sacrificial self-giving servant love which ought to characterize a person of God, a person of leadership. God warns if you are using God’s name for selfish ends, if you are abusing people in the name of God, using religion to promote prejudice or hatred, God sees. God judges. You have been weighed and found wanting.
Yet the image of “shepherd” is not just a religious image in the Hebrew Scriptures, as it comes to be in the New Testament. Shepherd is also used of political leaders. How very apt a condemnation! Do we not have too many political leaders lining their pockets with wealth at the expense of the poor, of the hard-working, of average people? It the state-house and in Washington, too often the focus is too much on what individual politicians can get rather than what they can do for those they are called to serve. God warns, I see what you are doing. And it will not last.
Yet I think that we would do a dis-service to read Jeremiah’s words as simply a way to wave our fingers at those preachers who rip off the poor as this one preacher I remember ripped off my family and many others; or as a way to fuel the fires of anger at politics. You see, Jeremiah set an example. He did not just sit and fume. He went and did something, risking much to stand against this injustice.
So if you see people misusing the name of God to take advantage of others you have a responsibility as a person of faith. You must speak up against them, organize against that abuse. If it is in your own community of faith, you have a responsibility to call for the abuse to end and not to support it, for such knowing support of abuse can make you an accomplice.
Similarly we are called not just to fume about how awful our government can be but to do something – to raise our voice, to educate ourselves, to join in activism in order to raise awareness and let those who are misusing power know we will not stand for it.
I would add we must too find those who are being faithful to their calls as faith leaders or as public servants and encourage them. You do not know the pressure they may be facing and resisting everyday to simply be another one who goes along with what is wrong in their field. Encourage them, support them, and remind others that, yes, there are those who choose to truly be faithful shepherds of the people.