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Rachel LuAugust 16, 2022
Photo from Unsplash.

A Reflection for Wednesday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time

For thus says the Lord GOD:  I myself will look after and tend my sheep. (EZ 34:11)

Today’s first reading is about the abuse of power. It is harsh and unsparing. In this passage, addressed to Ezekiel, God does not content himself with bland reminders to his chosen “shepherds” to take care and be good. They have not been good, and their crimes are detailed with piercing accuracy. Entrusted with the care of the flock, the shepherds “pastured” themselves, enjoying the milk and wool while the sheep were permitted to scatter. They “slaughtered the fatlings” to make their own feast. We may want to look away from this appalling image of God’s chosen shepherds eating the ones entrusted to them; unfortunately, we know all too well that the picture is accurate. Established authority figures can become the worst of predators.

Priests and bishops should tremble when they read this passage. Politicians should be afraid. Parents, bosses and community leaders should examine their consciences and get on their knees. Even if we have for the most part discharged our duties faithfully, we must never forget that authority is perilous. Earthly privileges and titles are alluring, but God is not impressed. He is not fooled by our perfunctory efforts to keep up appearances. A day of reckoning will come if we neglect the souls entrusted to our care.

Earthly shepherds falter; God never does.

This first reading may stir painful memories or leave us with a sense of foreboding. Fortunately, the church offers comfort. We are soothed with the beautiful imagery of the Psalm 23. Christ, our true shepherd, leads us to pastures and cooling waters. He protects us with his rod and staff, ever at our side as we walk through life’s shadows. Earthly shepherds falter; God never does. His care for us is unwavering, and as he promised Ezekiel, he will himself look after and tend us when our appointed guardians fall short. God’s grace is always available, and his word and his sacraments can still nourish us even when the church appears to be in disarray.

“Goodness and kindness will follow me all the days of my life,” declares the psalmist. With our minds still on the Ezekiel passage, this may seem false or even incredible. As we reflect, we will surely recall many occasions when God has shown us goodness and mercy. There are always consolations to uplift us, even in our suffering.

As the Gospel passage reminds us, we are obliged to labor in the Lord’s vineyard for as long as our life and strength will permit. We must try in our own ways to be good workers, good shepherds and good stewards of the things he has placed in our care. In the end though, we are God’s sheep, and it is his mercy and generosity that will save us. His pastures are evergreen, and his table is set for feasting. He himself will tend us, and there is nothing we shall want.

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