Memorial of Saint Bernard, abbot and Doctor of the Church
(Ezekiel 34:1-11; Matthew 20:1-16)
King Louis XIV of France, the Sun King, was once in the country hunting with falcons. Two peasants were watching the royal party, one of whom was quite taken up with the regalia and the other very sober about it. When the king stopped his horse to perch a falcon on his gloved hand, the first peasant remarked how magnificent the scene was. The second only commented that at least the king’s hand was occupied so that being it wasn’t taking anything out of his pockets. In today’s reading from Ezekiel the prophet chastises kings who similarly abuse their offices by taking tribute from the people and ignoring their needs.
In ancient times especially the king was considered the shepherd of his people. As we think of pastors taking care of the spiritual needs of their congregations, kings and, derivatively, princes were responsible for the temporal needs of their citizens. The people exchanged their work for a roof over their heads, food on the table, and protection from enemies. In the reading Ezekiel excoriates the leaders of Israel for abusing the rights of taxation and leading the people astray. So, Ezekiel claims, the Lord Himself will take control over the people to lead them rightly. This prophecy is fulfilled in the coming of Christ, the Good Shepherd.
Certainly civil leaders are owed deference, respect, and loyalty. We obey the laws they make in acknowledgement that God has appointed them to lead the people in temporal matters. Citizenship is a virtue that when widely cultivated leads to peace and justice in society.