The Ministry of a Shepherd: Binding Up the Broken

Editor’s Note: This is the fifth in a series on the The Ministry of a Shepherd from Ezekiel 34.

My wife and I have four boys. One of the things you learn quickly with multiple males in the household is that the world is a dangerous place. Boys aren’t looking for beauty; they are looking for adventure. But with great adventure comes great risk. In our case, injuries were a somewhat common occurrence. Among other things, we experienced six broken arms with our four boys. I remember one spring when our twin boys wore casts simultaneously, casualties of the same playground just two days apart (and we got a call each time from the same school nurse). There was a brief time around the Biles home where casts were so common, people began to grow suspicious!

I vividly remember, in every case, the helplessness of a non-medically trained father sitting in the ER with a child hurting from a broken arm I could not heal. The earnest wish to trade places with them was only drowned out by my fervent prayers to the true Healer.

Broken bones usually heal, but in ministry we deal with hurts of a much more lasting nature.

Broken bones usually heal, but in ministry we deal with hurts of a much more lasting nature. Some of the wounds we encounter are physical, some are spiritual, and some are emotional. It is the timely salve of truth from God’s Word, the love of a Heavenly Father, and the hope of eternal life delivered through a caring shepherd that alone can heal hurts X-Ray machines will never reveal.

In Ezekiel 34:4, the LORD continued His castigation of the careless clergy by indicting them for their failure to bind up the broken. It was a charge that spoke directly to the negligence of the shepherds. The LORD holds shepherds responsible for binding up the broken among the sheep.

In the context, this charge occurs immediately after the acknowledgement of the shepherd’s failure to heal the sick. But, binding that which is broken demands an even more personal connection than healing. The Hebrew word for “binding up” means “to bandage,” or “to wrap.” It is the word used in Jonah 2:5 regarding the weeds that were wrapped around the drowning prophet’s head as he sank in the Great Sea. The word picture suggests the image of loving arms wrapped around sheep that are hurting. It is comfort given by a caring shepherd who himself has been comforted by the One who promised that “underneath are His everlasting arms.”

This is the promise to which the Psalmist clings in Ps. 147:3, “He heals the broken-hearted and binds up their wounds.” Or, the words of the Prophet in Hosea 6:1, “Come, let us return to the LORD. For He has torn us, but He will heal us; He has wounded us, but He will bandage us.”

It is to this aspect that our Lord turned in His message in the synagogue, “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, Because the LORD has anointed me To bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to captives, And freedom to prisoners.”

The kinds of hurts most people encounter won’t be assuaged by an email, a tweet, or a post.

Two things seem clear. First, we will not bind up the broken from a distance; we will not bring healing to people’s lives by dictate, rebuke, persuasion, or even good intentions. Healing requires touch. It requires proximity. It is hands-on, close contact. The kinds of hurts most people encounter won’t be assuaged by an email, a tweet, or a post. Shepherds touch sheep. They hold them.

One day a woman plagued with a sickness that medicine of her day could not heal made her way to Jesus. She was healed because of her faith and the power of a limitless Savior, but the healing occurred upon contact. Hurting sheep will not be healed and untouched.

One of the few things I know with certainty about pastoral ministry is that if you don’t like people, you’re not going to be a good shepherd. Indeed, one of the primary reasons why pastoral tenures are so shockingly brief today is because too many shepherds never get close to their sheep. You can’t pastor from a distance. A preacher may sequester himself in his study, but the work of a pastor begins in the hearts of the people we touch.

If you don’t like people, you’re not going to be a good shepherd.

A second somewhat obvious thought is that healing involves assessment. I can’t help heal those I don’t know to be hurting. This involves time spent with the sheep. The good shepherd is always aware of the signs that a sheep is in trouble.

Shepherds who fail to bind that which is broken have embezzled God’s authority but wasted its privilege. Listen, if even the world knows the first responsibility of a physician is first to do no harm, shouldn’t shepherds of our Lord do that and more. The sorrow of our LORD’s rebuke reveals the irony of caregivers who give no care. Like the religious leader who passed by on the other side of the road is the pastor who doesn’t bind up the broken of his sheep.