Wednesday: Twentieth Week of the Year: August 17, 2016
Year II: Ezekiel 34:1-11; Psalm 23:1-6; Matthew 20:1-16
The Responsorial Psalm identifies our ultimate minister: “The Lord is my shepherd, there is nothing I shall want.”
Ezekiel 34:1-11 demands the kind of reflection one enters into with fear and trembling. On the one hand God says in this reading “I am going to call the shepherds to account.” To ignore that would be censor the word of God. On the other hand, to call priests and bishops to account in any way opens us to “anti-clericalism” or to the danger of disrespect for the hierarchy. No one should ignore St. Ignatius, the first bishop of Antioch and Father of the Church, martyred c. 107 A.D., who insisted to the Ephesians: “Be in agreement with the mind of the bishop…. You should form a choir, so that, in harmony of sound through harmony of hearts, and in unity taking the note from God, you may sing with one voice through Jesus Christ to the Father.” (N.B. There is no harmony if all are singing the same note). And to the Magnesians: “Let there be nothing among you that could divide you, but live in accord with the bishop…. The Lord did nothing either of himself or through the apostles without the Father, with whom he is united. So too, you should undertake nothing without the bishop and the presbyters.”1
Nevertheless, this Scripture reading is a scathing indictment of those charged to minister to the flock. Jesus himself said the people he saw were “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” His most bitter opponents were the “chief priests and the elders (presbyters) of the people” (“Presbyters” is the preferred word today for ordained priests), It was they, with the vested religion teachers (the scribes) and the defenders of “law and order” (the Pharisees) who plotted against him and persuaded the people to call for his death. Only a blind fool would assume a priori that the virus that infected the “establishment” in God’s People then is not at work to corrupt the similar establishment in God’s People today. The proverb, “Power corrupts” is not time-specific.2
Because we are all “priests in the Priest” by Baptism, we are all “shepherds in the Shepherd” to one another. When the wolf attacks our anointed shepherds it is every Christian’s duty to come to the rescue: to speak up and confront — with respect and love — any minister to whom these words apply:
You have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep?... You have not strengthened the weak, healed the sick, bound up the injured, brought back the strayed, sought the lost, but with force and harshness you have ruled them. So they were scattered and became food for all the wild animals [read “fundamentalists” and those who create their own religions].
Matthew 20:1-16: In telling of the generosity of the landowner, Jesus affirms the new goal of business. It is others’ good, not our own. Business should be ministry. Love of others should pervade everything we do, especally our business practices. We are consecrated and committed to love at all times and in every way. The temptation to make anything else the goal of anything we do strikes at the heart of Christianity.
Pope Francis said it also strikes at the heart of what is best and viable in Western Society:
To rethink our society, we need to create dignified and well-paying jobs, especially for our young people. To do this requires us to come up with new, more inclusive and equitable economic models, aimed not at serving the few, but at benefiting ordinary people and society as a whole… This would involve passing from an economy directed at revenue, profiting from speculation and lending at interest, to a social economy that invests in persons by creating jobs and providing training… an economy that guarantees access to land and lodging through labor (receiving the Charlemagne Prize, 6 May 2016).
Initiative: Give God’s life: Be a “priest in the Priest.” Take responsibility for shepherds and sheep alike.
1See the breviary readings, second Sunday and sixteenth Monday in Ordinary time.
2Matthew 9:36; 16:21; 20:18; 27:1, 20; John 10:1-18.