20Aug 20th August. Wednesday, Week 20

Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, abbot and doctor of the Church.

Bernard (1090-1153) from Burgundy, France, was a monk and the primary builder of the reforming Cistercian order. He founded an abbey at Clairvaux which became inspirational for monastic reform in the 12th century. A great preacher and devoted to the Virgin Mary, he was advisor to popes and crusaders and sought the unity of Christendom. At the Council of Troyes (1129) he helped to formulate the rule of the Knights Templar, who became the ideal of Christian nobility.

First Reading: Ezekiel 34:1-11

(Bad shepherds neglect their sheep and care only for themselves.)

The word of the Lord came to me: Mortal, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel: prophesy, and say to them, to the shepherds: Thus says the Lord God: Ah, you shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fatlings; but you do not feed the sheep. You have not strengthened the weak, you have not healed the sick, you have not bound up the injured, you have not brought back the strayed, you have not sought the lost, but with force and harshness you have ruled them. So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd; and scattered, they became food for all the wild animals. My sheep were scattered, they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill; my sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with no one to search or seek for them.

Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: As I live, says the Lord God, because my sheep have become a prey, and my sheep have become food for all the wild animals, since there was no shepherd; and because my shepherds have not searched for my sheep, but the shepherds have fed themselves, and have not fed my sheep. Oh you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: Thus says the Lord God, I am against the shepherds; and I will demand my sheep at their hand, and put a stop to their feeding the sheep; no longer shall the shepherds feed themselves. I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, so that they may not be food for them. For thus says the Lord God: I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out.

Gospel: Matthew 20:1-16

(Parable of the boss who pays the same wage to the first as to the last.)

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire labourers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the labourers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right. ‘ So they went. When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘Why are you standing here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us. ‘ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard. ‘ When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the labourers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first. ‘ When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. Now when the first came they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat. ‘ But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

Defender of the weak

The shepherd motif in Ezekiel invites us to think about leadership in church and state, and perhaps Review our own leadership style. Many adults have some influence on the lives of others, whether as a parent over home and children, as priest or parish team over parishioners, seniority in one’s employment, elected positions in civil administration, those who hire people for occasional work at home or in the office … even extending to our attitudes to whoever delivers our mail or daily paper, those who collect our garbage, and hosts of others who touch our lives in various ways. Each line of Ezekiel’s allegory raises the question. Do we think only of our own benefit  and lord it over others ? Are we dominant, arrogant, indifferent to what happens in others’ lives? These are serious questions, for God says, “I am coming against those shepherds. I will claim my sheep from them and stop them from shepherding my sheep.”

When Jesus spoke about God’s profound mercy, he used Semitic imagery and hyperbole. Therefore, in the parable of the vineyard workers it is irrelevant to discuss the social justice (or injustice) of the estate-owner, who was paying only a denarius a day, the minimal wage for those who worked all day but more than fair for the late-comers who worked only an hour in the cool of the evening. The punch-line declares that new arrivals have equal rights with those who have been there all the time. Possibly Jesus was defending his disciples, newly arrived on the religious scene, against the Pharisees  and Scribes whose leadership was long accepted. The early church reinterpreted the parable to mean that gentiles are equal to Jews in the eyes of God. Today the parable may put in question our ability to recognize new leadership from the ranks of the laity, including the women, or to give proper credit to the young generation, to pass on the mantle of authority, to accept change within the forms of civil or religious authority.

 



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