August 17, 2022
by Joan Blandin Howard
Creighton University - retired
click here for photo and information about the writer

Wednesday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time
Lectionary: 421

Ezekiel 34:1-11
Psalm 23:1-3A, 3B-4, 5, 6
Matthew 20:1-16

Praying Ordinary Time

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As I write, Pope Francis is visiting Canada.  He is spending time conversing, honoring, and praying with First Nation communities. He asked forgiveness for the mistreatment of children by some Catholic institutions in Canada’s indigenous school system from 1870-1996.

It is appropriate at this time to remember and honor Nicholas Black Elk.

“Nicholas” was Black Elk’s Catholic name. Born an Oglala of the Lakota Sioux tribe, he was considered a wise man, a medicine man, a just and righteous man within his community.  A prophet. Black Elk’s mission, his “vision” was to care and protect his community justly and righteously.  His spirituality included respect and care for all of nature and harmony among “white, black, yellow and red men”. “In 2017 the Vatican authorized his cause for canonization and he was named “Servant of God”. (Give Us This Day, pg 182)

In today’s reading from the Prophet Ezekiel, we hear, “…woe to the shepherds of Israel who have been pasturing themselves! Should not shepherds, rather, pasture sheep?” “I swear I am coming against these shepherds.”  No doubt the Lord is furious with the shepherds who had been abusing their “sheep”.  The “sheep” were not cared for justly, much less righteously.  Who were yesterday’s “sheep”?  Who are today’s “sheep”? “I will save my “sheep” says the Lord.

In the Psalm we hear, “The Lord is my shepherd...”

In the gospel, we hear of the grumbling of the vineyard workers who feel cheated.  They toiled all day and were paid the same wages as the late-comers. “It is not fair!” Yet, they were paid the agreed upon wage.

Reflecting on the readings and upon Nicholas Black Elk’s “dream,” his “vision,” we hear overtones of injustice, self-righteousness, and greed. The sheep grow lean while the shepherds thrive.

There is much to consider, meditate and pray on in the history of the First Nation people.  At times they were the “sheep.”  The “sheep” of Ezkiel are not difficult to identify then or today. Many the world over are treated harshly, brutally and unjustly.  Consider them.

Later in the gospel, we hear, “Why do you stand here idle all day?... No one has hired us…. (The Lord directs) “You too go into my vineyard.” Is the Lord inpatient? Exasperated with them, with us, with me? 

There is no reason for anyone, for me, to be idly standing by watching while others labor.  There is much to do in the vineyard of the Lord, in the “vision” of the First Nation people.

The Prophet Ezekiel is holding up for all clearly to see, the signs of our times.  A true prophet does, he is telling it like it is.

World-wide we witness the idolatry of greed, self-aggrandizement, and the mistreatment of those whose dreams, faith traditions, and spiritualities are different from ours.  Nicholas Black Elk was a Catholic and a Lakota Sioux. In his 87 years he experienced, valued, respected and lived the sacredness of both traditions.

Today, we have heard harsh tones, impatience, frustration maybe even condemnation from the Lord.

However, the most lasting and powerful words in today’s readings:

“I am coming…I will save my sheep.”  Says the Lord.

Gifts of Hope and Trust.

The Kingdom of God will come, is at hand.
Justice and righteousness for all will prevail.
The Vision of Nicholas Black Elk will be fulfilled.

What is my place in the puzzle of discipleship? Am I also a “servant of God”?  Where do I experience the sacred?

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