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Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time

Ez. 34:1-11 & Mt. 20:1-16

Ezekiel heavily criticizes the leaders of Israel. He compares them to bad shepherds who are cruel to their sheep. They abuse their authority, by only taking care of themselves, ignoring the plea of those who suffer, governing in a harsh and dictatorial fashion, and paying no attention to the overall welfare of those in their charge.

Whatever our calling, be it parent, teacher, manager or priest, we are responsible for those under our charge and therefore accountable. The challenge which all those in authority face is to rule with God's strength and wisdom. They should lead more by example than dictate. They should be more eager to serve than to be served.

It is easy to criticise our leaders and offer suggestions on how things might be done better. We should pray for our leaders. We need to understand that they are our fellow human beings who can experience the loneliness of office and the isolation of responsibility. For those who lead with integrity and courage, we thank God. For those who are negligent and cruel, we ask God's help to heal them and protect those in their charge. For those who are tired and weary, we ask for a new springtime of renewal.

The parable in today's Gospel about a landowner paying his hard-working labourers, who sweated and toiled all day, nothing more than those who had worked but a short while the same day seems very unfair and unjust. Were they not right to expect more, for they had worked longer hours? What Jesus wants to teach His listeners is how extravagant God’s love and mercy can be.

A little background information on the work practices in Jesus’ time may help us grasp more easily the point He is trying to make. Most people in Palestine had to hire themselves out as day labourers. They would go to the market square each morning and wait for a landowner to hire them. To stand idle all day usually meant no money earned and therefore no food on the table.

So when the owner of the vineyard in Jesus' parable hired those men at the last hour of work, he was showing compassion for those who had not been hired earlier in the day: he did not want to see a person who was willing to work return home with nothing. That’s why he gave them a full wage, thus ensuring that they would have enough for the family's sustenance that day.

As with the landowner, God does not want to see us suffering or in want. His love overcomes the logic of what we 'deserve' and gives us instead what we 'need' - lavishing upon us the gifts of His kingdom, supplying not only what we lack but giving us more than we can expect. Let this truth fill our hearts and minds with amazement and gratitude today.

Lord Jesus, Your love knows no bounds! Fill our hearts with gratitude for the gifts You lavish upon us every day! Do not let us be tempted to take anything which we are not entitled to have. Help us to be generous like You, with our families, our friends and even people whom we do not know.

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