Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Lent in Year A 2017 at St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta
26 March 2017
Welcoming people whom society marginalises is one of the most challenging and yet essential aspects of our Christian mission. As a Bishop Delegate for refugees, I am privileged to have met many individuals and communities who swim against the tide and witness to the all-embracing love of God. Only last week, I went up to Brisbane and spoke to many social justice and refugee support groups. I also met recently arrived refugees from Syria and Iraq, Christians and Muslims included. How countercultural and yet how life affirming it is when we can overcome fear and prejudice, and create a welcoming space for refugees and other marginalised groups in our faith communities. That is the texture of Christianity. That is the theme that the Scriptures for this 4th Sunday in Lent speak to us.
In the first reading, the prophet Samuel was sent to the house of Jesse in Bethlehem, in order to anoint the future king of Israel. Samuel was not blind physically. However, like other able bodied individuals, he had a few blind spots. He struggled to see beyond his own prejudices. He judged the children of Jesse – one after the other – according to their external appearances. Yet time and again, Samuel was told not to see them through the prism of his cultural and personal biases. To his total surprise, the one deemed unworthy turned out to be the chosen of God. Jewish mind favours the first born, not the last born like David. Samuel was taught a sobering lesson that day: “God does not see as man sees. Man looks at appearances but God looks at the heart”.
Welcoming people whom society marginalises is one of the most challenging and yet essential aspects of our Christian mission.
It is a kind of sobering lesson that we all need to learn. We may be blessed with physical sight. But like Samuel, we need to have our eyes of faith wide-opened; we need to expand our limited horizons so that we can see the way God wants us to see in the other. How often our ingrained prejudices prevent us from accepting and respecting people who are different to us. How often – as Martin Luther King Jr lamented long ago that – people are judged not for the content of their character but for the colour of their skin. And we can add other arbitrary barriers and labels to the list such as religion, nationality, disability, gender, homelessness etc… We must be challenged as Samuel was, to see beyond our fears and biases.
This message is reinforced by the Gospel which is a story full of rich symbolism and profound spirituality. We can see a sharp contrast between Jesus’ attitude to the blind man and that of the scribes and Pharisees. Whereas Jesus deals with the man in a way that is full of compassion, respect and dignity, the Pharisees on the other hand show an attitude of ignorance, prejudice and hard-heartedness. First they judge him a sinner on account of his disability; then they reject his testimony because of his unworthiness and finally they expel him for his faith in Jesus. We can detect a sense of irony in all of this. It is the fully sighted people who are guilty of ignorance, prejudice and hard-heartedness. The story makes it clear to us who has the gift of true vision.
We can see a sharp contrast between Jesus’ attitude to the blind man and that of the scribes and Pharisees.
The story also makes it clear to us that faith in Christ brings that true vision. Jesus uses the mud and saliva to enable the blind man to see again. This takes us back to the story in Genesis and how God created man. Jesus is therefore presented as one who gives life and restores what is broken. From earliest times today’s gospel story has also been associated with baptism. Just as the blind man went down into the waters of Siloam and came up whole, so also believers who are cleansed and made whole through the waters of baptism. And like the blind man, we are to bear witness to Christ by our lives of faith, hope and love, even to the point of suffering hardship and persecution on account of the Gospel.
As we approach another Holy Week journey through Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection, we are summoned to recognise that in God’s Kingdom we wear no labels other than our identity as the children of God. In Christ, “there is no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male and female”. Our faith makes us step beyond these human boundaries. It expands our horizons and pushes the limits of our love. Today’s Gospel also reminds us there is no “blind” or “sighted,” no “disabled” or “normal” – all of God’s children are called to live lives of discipleship in various ways.
Our faith makes us step beyond these human boundaries.
In order for us to live out the message of inclusion and mission, we need to start paying attention to the perspectives of people we often ignore, including people who wear the label “disability.” We need to create an environment where fear of differences is replaced by encouraging all people to share their gifts. The world often pushes us to compete or conform, but God calls us to a different way: working together, needing each other, being the body of Christ. Like the blind man, may we be healed and made whole from the darkness of our fears and insecurities. May we be gifted with the new vision of faith that enables us to see and act according to the values of the Gospel. Let us pray that Christ open our eyes so we may see like him; our ears that we may hear like him and our hearts so we may love like him.