The 20th Wednesday in Ordinary Time
In the Gospel of St John, our Lord compared himself to a shepherd: “I am the good shepherd”, he said, “and I know my sheep, and they know me”. At the end of today’s first reading from the prophet Ezekiel, he referred to himself in the same way: “I myself will look after and tend my sheep”, which is what a good shepherd does. And in the responsorial psalm, all who partake of the food of salvation cry out: “The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want”, for this shepherd bestows blessings of every kind upon his sheep. These are all gifts of his generosity because it is not due to our own virtue that we enjoy these things.
Since then we have such a helper and defender, we shall not fear the gates of death but shall hold death in contempt. As the Psalm continues, “If I should walk in the valley of darkness” (some translations say ‘the valley of the shadow of death’) no evil would I fear. You are there with your crook and your staff; with these, you give me comfort”. With his crook, he supports our weakness, and with his staff, he guides us along the right path. No one can go astray if we turn to the saving cross, for the sign of the cross, and even the memory of it, sets us free from every evil and leads us to the way of holiness.
“Surely goodness and kindness shall follow me all the days of my life”, for the Lord does not wait for our Masses and prayers but takes the initiative, both in this life and in the life to come. As Jesus describes it in today’s Gospel, he goes out at dawn to hire laborers for his vineyard. In the evening he gives orders for all to be paid, beginning with the last and ending with the first. All the laborers are paid at the same time, but because some are paid after an hour and others after twelve hours, the first group had a shorter time to wait and may be said to have received their wages first.
The earliest saints like the Desert Fathers and Mothers were like those called at the first hour, and they will receive the joy of resurrection at the same time as we do. So also will others who came later, Saints Benedict and Scholastica and their disciples, called as we may say at the third hour. St Bernard and the early Cistercians were called at the sixth hour; and after them, St Rafael Arnaiz and the saints of our time called at the ninth hour. At the end of the world, all Christians, called at the eleventh hour, will receive the joy of resurrection together with those who went before them. All will be rewarded at the same time, but the first comers will have had the longest to wait.
In that great reward then, we shall all be equal – the first to the last and the last to the first. For the wage stands for eternal life with our good Shepherd, in which all will share the same joy. What is endless for all will not be longer for one and shorter for another. “In the Lord’s own house we shall dwell, forever and ever.”