Wednesday, 26 September 2012
From a sermon On Pastors by Saint Augustine, bishop - Do whatever they tell you, but do not follow what they do
Shepherds, hear the word of the Lord. But what are the shepherds to hear? Thus says the Lord God: Behold I myself am over the shepherds, and I will claim my sheep from their hands.
Hear and learn, you sheep of God. God calls for an accounting of his sheep from the wicked shepherds and inquires into the death of his sheep at their hands. For in another passage he speaks through the same prophet: Son of man, I have appointed you a watchman for the house of Israel. You shall hear the word from my mouth and you shall point out the way to them in my name. When I say to the sinner: You shall die, and you do not speak to warn the wicked man from his wicked way, because of his wickedness he shall die, but you shall be held responsible for his death. If, however, you warn the wicked man to turn away from his wickedness, and he fails to do so, he shall die in his iniquity, but you shall have saved your soul.
Dear brothers, what does this mean? Do you see how dangerous it is to keep silent? The sinner dies and rightly so; he dies in his wickedness and in his sin, for his failure to heed you has killed him. He could have found the Lord, the living shepherd who says: I live. But he was heedless; and the one appointed for this task, the watchman, did not warn him. The wicked one then justly suffers death and the watchman rightly suffers damnation. But the Lord says, if you say to the wicked man: You shall surely die, and if he fails to heed the sword of judgment with which I have threatened him, that sword will overtake and kill him, and he will die in his sin; but you will have saved your soul. Therefore it is our task not to keep silent, and it is your task, even if we ourselves are silent, to hear the words of the shepherd from the Scriptures.
I have said that he will take the sheep from the bad shepherds and give them to shepherds who are good. Let us consider whether he does so. I see him taking the sheep from the bad shepherds, when he says: Behold, I myself am over the shepherds, and I will claim my sheep from their hands; and I will turn away from them so that they may not pasture my sheep, and the shepherds shall no longer give pasture. For when I say: “Let them pasture my sheep,” they give pasture to themselves and not to my sheep. Therefore, I will turn away from them so that they may not pasture my sheep. How does the Lord turn away from them to keep them from pasturing his sheep? Do whatever they tell you, but do not follow what they do. It is as if he said: “The words they say are mine, but their deeds are their own.” If you do not follow the example of the bad shepherds, they are not giving you pasture. But if you do what they say, it is I who am feeding you.”