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Ash and Oil: March 11

Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture, but you must tread down with your feet the rest of your pasture? When you drink of clear water, must you foul the rest with your feet? And must my sheep eat what you have trodden with your feet, and drink what you have fouled with your feet? (Ezekiel 34:18-19)

Watch your step!

It’s a common sign to see in buildings and public places; a little caution to be mindful of where you’re walking so you don’t hurt yourself or anyone around you.

In a way, Ezekiel 34 is like a big “Watch your step!” sign. God, speaking through the prophet, is angry with those people who have been careless, greedy and unjust. He speaks against the “shepherds” (the priests overseeing the activities of the temple) who have fed themselves but not the sheep (the people of Israel). While the shepherds got themselves nice and full, clothed and happy, the sheep have been terribly neglected. “You have not strengthened the weak, you have not healed the sick, you have not bound up the injured, you have not sought the lost…” accuses the Lord (v. 4).

Later, the image shifts from lousy shepherds to lousy sheep. Their voracious appetites and aggressive natures crowd and butt out the weaker animals, and they carelessly ruin the pasture for the rest of the sheep. “I will save my flock,” God says, “I will judge between sheep and sheep” (v. 22). It's a promise and a warning to take seriously.

In our time of prayer, reflection, meditation and repentance this Lenten season, it’s good to take an honest look at where – and how – we’ve been walking. The image of the aggressive sheep trampling and ruining the good pasture for others is a particularly strong image when it comes to earthkeeping and justice for our neighbors. If we blindly consume more, discard more and demand more, we will inevitably foul the pasture with our feet.

Pray: Lord, help us to watch our steps! We desire to remain on the right path, and to allow room for others to walk alongside us. Show us how to tread with more care, and forgive us when we have not.   

Take the next step: Watch your step – then maybe tweak it – by calculating your carbon footprint. Take this fun and interactive quiz from the Global Footprint Network to learn how your lifestyle impacts the Earth, and some steps you can take to lighten your tread.

[Image: Flickr user Simon Laroche]

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