Ez 34:1-11; Ps 23:1-6; Mt 20:1-16
Saints in every generation have called the faithful to verdant pastures and restful waters of the Holy Spirit. The People of God find the Word of God, true refreshment for the soul. After this comfort the believer is able to walk in the right paths for the glory of His Name. Even when he walks in a dark valley, he fears no evil; the Shepherd Lord is at his side and with his rod and staff the Lord Jesus gives courage. Indeed, the head of the weary and wounded is anointed with the oil of gladness, and his cup overflows with the wine of the Mystical Banquet. After such nourishment and relaxation the soul is ready and willing to take up the cross and follow the Shepherd Lord all the days of her life, with goodness and kindness following. In the LORD’s own house shall we dwell for years to come. The LORD himself continues to shepherd us, even when our earthly shepherds fail to reveal God’s loving care. Today, the Shepherd Lord meets us in this liturgy to guide us again to the Eucharistic Banquet that alone can fill us with his glory and deepen our desire for the eternal life of glory in heaven, the LORD’s own house.
From the very harsh and condemning words of the Prophet Ezekiel, we get a very painful vision of authority at its worst. It seems that the shepherds of Israel valued the sheep for only one thing, food. Even today we hear echoes of this utilitarian vision of authority. Sometimes questions reveal more about the one asking than even the answers to these questions. How will the company profit from this plan? We seldom hear: how will this plan benefit the most humble and powerless among us? The voice of the LORD cries out through Ezekiel, “Woe to the shepherds of Israel who have been pasturing themselves!” They have fed off their milk, slaughtered their fatlings, but the sheep have not been pastured. The Shepherds have not strengthened the weak, nor healed the sick, nor binded up the injured. They have not brought back the strayed nor sought the lost, but lorded it over them harshly and brutally. According to the teaching of Ezekiel this is not what the Lord intended in sharing his shepherding power with the leaders of his people. Indeed, those in authority in the world or in the church are called to be good shepherds, using power to serve others rather than be self-serving. Ezekiel offers an amazing and unexpected glimpse of the true nature of God. The LORD is slow to mercy and rich in kindness. The LORD is humble in his very divine nature; as he speaks without hesitation, “I myself will look after and tend my sheep.” Indeed, from the heart of the Living God comes the life changing vision of one who lives to serve without hesitations and without limitations.
Divine generosity is too strange for us, far beyond our limited and narrow ideas of how God should behave. In today’s parable it seems that the Master of the Vineyard has to defend his generosity. Even in the light of today’s economic theory, such behavior is completely unjustifiable. Those who bore the day’s burden and the heat would still cry out, “Unfair Boss! Unjust labor practices!” Yet, this parable is not about labor relations back then, or even now. This parable is about the consistent and constant vigilance of the Master who so loves us that we are always welcome into his vineyard to find a share in his labor that gives us true purpose and infinite dignity. Indeed, the Lord Jesus wants us to share in his own divine labor to produce the best tasting wine ever, for the wedding feast of the Lamb. The Divine Shepherd, who leads us to the refreshment we need to live and move and have our being, is the same Good Shepherd who offers himself as the sacrificial Lamb of God to take away the sins of the world. In the Kingdom of God we will shine bright with the glory of the Lamb who always amazes us with his generosity. He makes the first last and the last first. We have no time for envy in the Kingdom of God that hastens to its fulfillment. Indeed, in the Church there is no room for envy of those who are so blessed to share with us only an hour of labor in the vineyard. We who have borne the day’s burden and heat have also received a share in the generosity of the Master, as we go with him into the market place looking for others who are just standing around. Indeed, we share in the divine joy of the Good Shepherd who calls out, welcome good and faithful servant.