USCCB Podcast of the Readings:
A reading from the Holy Gospel according to Matthew.
Jesus told his disciples this parable:
“The Kingdom of heaven is like a landowner
who went out at dawn to hire laborers for his vineyard.
After agreeing with them for the usual daily wage,
he sent them into his vineyard.
Going out about nine o’clock,
he saw others standing idle in the marketplace,
and he said to them, ‘You too go into my vineyard,
and I will give you what is just.’
So they went off.
And he went out again around noon,
and around three o’clock, and did likewise.
Going out about five o’clock,
he found others standing around, and said to them,
‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’
They answered, ‘Because no one has hired us.’
He said to them, ‘You too go into my vineyard.’
When it was evening the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman,
‘Summon the laborers and give them their pay,
beginning with the last and ending with the first.’
When those who had started about five o’clock came,
each received the usual daily wage.
So when the first came, they thought that they would receive more,
but each of them also got the usual wage.
And on receiving it they grumbled against the landowner, saying,
‘These last ones worked only one hour,
and you have made them equal to us,
who bore the day’s burden and the heat.’
He said to one of them in reply,
‘My friend, I am not cheating you.
Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage?
Take what is yours and go.
What if I wish to give this last one the same as you?
Or am I not free to do as I wish with my own money?
Are you envious because I am generous?’
Thus, the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
Good News Reflection: Signs of a good shepherd (and what to do about the bad ones)
A “shepherd” is anyone who’s had the responsibility of guiding us and protecting us. What is a good shepherd?
He (or she) is caring.
He protects his flock.
He guides his sheep to safer pastures.
He goes after the lost and finds them.
He carries the weak ones over the rough spots.
He fights off the wolves and defeats them with the power of God.
Always alert to do his job well, he is closely connected to the Lord who empowers him.
What an awesome calling!
Have you ever been hurt by one of God’s shepherds? Indirectly and directly, we’ve all suffered from priests who’ve abused their vocations.
Today’s first reading makes it clear how upsetting it is to the Lord when shepherds fail to do what they’re called to do. Just because they’ve been given authority over us does not automatically give them a special place in God’s kingdom. The sheep are held higher in God’s esteem than shepherds who are not like Christ the Good Shepherd. As Jesus says in today’s Gospel reading, “Thus the last shall be first and the first shall be last.”
Pope Francis said (April 14, 2014) that priests who are not willing to be shaped by the Holy Spirit, “meditating every day on the Gospel … experiencing the mercy of God in the Sacrament of Reconciliation … eating the Eucharist with faith and with love … being men of prayer … it would be better for you to have the courage to seek another path.”
However, when they don’t and we get hurt by shepherds who fail to be good shepherds, we do not need to run from them and from the Church. Indeed, we are called to stay and be Christ’s instrument of healing and restoration. The first step of healing is to remember how God feels about it: “I myself will look after [my sheep] and tend to their needs.” Jesus is the perfectly Good Shepherd. He picks us up and gently embraces us, kisses our wounds, and carries us where we need to go, while we safely rest and recover.
To truly rest in the Divine Shepherd’s arms, we need to forgive the human shepherds who pastured us poorly. We need to remember that they, too, have been pastured poorly by someone in their background, and often their selfishness comes from an all-consuming need to pasture themselves — a need that only Jesus can successfully fill if they let him.
We also need to forgive those who are hardest to forgive. Yes, even those who molested children. Without negating their responsibility in choosing the path of terrible sin instead of holiness, we need to pray for their souls as much as we need to pray for their victims. When there is nothing else we can do, we can pray that the victorious power of Christ will reclaim what the devil has stolen. Satan wants to destroy the Church, of course. Christ’s shepherds are the devil’s first target. If we’re not careful, our righteous anger can be used by the devil to further undermine the Church. With Christ’s help, our willingness to forgive will defeat the Enemy.
All human shepherds (even the best of them) are imperfect and will fail us from time to time. If we seek perfect love and guidance from them, insisting that they give us all that we need, we take our eyes off of Jesus and what he can do for us. Only with Jesus can we, like it says in today’s responsorial psalm, be wanting for nothing, fully satisfied. Only with Jesus can we find lush pastures, restful waters, and refreshment for our soul. Only with Jesus can we find the right path through dark valleys. Only with Jesus can our lives overflow with goodness.
Keep your eyes on Jesus!
My Lord, grant me an attentive and grateful heart to appreciate your countless blessings and abundant mercy. Amen.
© 2018 by Terry A. Modica