The word of the Lord came to me: Mortal, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel: prophesy, and say to them - to the shepherds: Thus says the Lord God: Ah, you shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fatlings; but you do not feed the sheep.You have not strengthened the weak, you have not healed the sick, you have not bound up the injured, you have not brought back the strayed, you have not sought the lost, but with force and harshness you have ruled them.So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd; and scattered, they became food for all the wild animals.My sheep were scattered, they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill; my sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with no one to search or seek for them.
Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: As I live, says the Lord God, because my sheep have become a prey, and my sheep have become food for all the wild animals, since there was no shepherd; and because my shepherds have not searched for my sheep, but the shepherds have fed themselves, and have not fed my sheep. Oh you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: Thus says the Lord God, I am against the shepherds; and I will demand my sheep at their hand, and put a stop to their feeding the sheep; no longer shall the shepherds feed themselves. I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, so that they may not be food for them. For thus says the Lord God: I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out.
The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.
Fresh and green are the pastures
where he gives me repose;
Near restful waters he leads me;
to revive my drooping spirit. (R./)
He guides me along the right path
for the sake of his name.
Though I walk in the valley of darkness
no evil would I fear.
You are there with your rod and your staff
with these you give me courage. (R./)
You have prepared a banquet for me
in the sight of my foes;
my head you have anointed with oil;
my cup is overflowing. (R./)
Surely goodness and kindness will follow me
all the days of my life;
In the house of the Lord shall I dwell
for ever and ever. (R./)
Jesus said to them, "For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire labourers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the labourers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. When he went out about nine o'clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; and he said to them, 'You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.' So they went. When he went out again about noon and about three o'clock, he did the same. And about five o'clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, 'Why are you standing here idle all day?' They said to him, 'Because no one has hired us.' He said to them, 'You also go into the vineyard.' When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, 'Call the labourers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.' When those hired about five o'clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. Now when the first came they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, saying, 'These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.' But he replied to one of them, 'Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?' So the last will be first, and the first will be last."
Especially in the case of parables and riddles, the word of God does not give quick, final answers but prods us into reflection, as we read at the end of the Book of Ecclesiastes, "The sayings of the wise are like goads." Elsewhere the word of God is compared to rain and snow that come down from heaven but do not return without soaking the earth, "giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater." (Isa 55:10). God's word is not simply the words of the Bible but the biblical message as absorbed within our own heart and mind, and as planted in the earth of our questions and hopes, like seed that is sown in the field or like bread that nourishes our lives.
The allegory of Ezekiel helps us to look at some details in our style of leadership. Every adult acquires some type of authority over others, be it a parent over home and children, priest and parish team over parishioners, seniority in one's place of employment, elected positions in civil administration, those who hire people for occasional work in the home or office, even each of us in our attitude toward the persons delivering our mail or daily paper, those who collect garbage, and hosts of others who touch our lives in various ways. Each line of Ezekiel's allegory puts a serious question to us. Do we use our authority for our own benefit: by not strengthening the weak, or refusing to bind up the injured? by lording it harshly over others ? by being indifferent to what happens in their daily life? These questions are put to us very seriously. Unless we change our ways, God swears, "I am coming against those shepherds. I will claim my sheep from them and stop them from shepherding my sheep."
When Jesus spoke the word of God, he used the Semitic form of speaking, rich with hyperbole. Therefore, in the case of the parable of the vineyard workers it is entirely irrelevant to discuss the social justice (or injustice) of the estate-owner, who was paying only a denarius, less than minimal wage for those who worked all day but more than adequate for those who worked only an hour in the cool of the evening. The punch-line declares that new arrivals are equal to those who have been around a long time. Jesus may have been defending his disciples, newly arrived on the religious scene, against the Pharisees, Sadducees and Scribes whose leadership had been long accepted. The early church reinterpreted the parable, to mean that gentiles are equal to Jews in the kingdom of God. Today the parable may put in question our ability to recognize new leadership from the ranks of the laity, including the women, or to give proper credit to the young generation, to transfer the mantle of authority, to accept change within the forms of civil or religious authority.
Sometimes in his parables Jesus has people behave in ways that others would find surprising or even foolish. The behaviour of the father in the parable of the prodigal son comes to mind. He gave an extraordinary welcome to a son who had done nothing to deserve it. The reaction of his older brother in the story is in keeping with how many people would have reacted if that had happened in real life. Today's parable of the workers in the vineyard is a little bit like that parable. The behaviour of the owner of the vineyard would have been considered very strange and even foolish in Jesus' time; he gave a day's wages to workers who only worked one hour.
Many people tend to react to the parable somewhat negatively even today. Just as we often feel sorry for the elder son in the parable of the prodigal son, we tend to feel sorry for the workers who worked all day and yet got the same as those who worked for an hour. Yet, the workers who worked all day got a day's wages for their work, which is what the vineyard owner promised them. What is strange and unsettling is that those who worked for only an hour also got a day's wages. Jesus began this parable with the words, "the kingdom of heaven is like..." The parable is saying something about how God relates to us. Jesus is saying that God is extraordinarily generous. There is nothing calculating about how God relates to us. God's giving is not dependant on our doing. There can come a time in our lives when, for one reason or another, we can't do a great deal. Jesus seems to be saying that this has no impact on how God relates to us. God does not ask us to be deserving but to be receptive, and the share what we receive from him with each other.