2023 28A: Being synodal as an expression of authentic discipleship
Readings: Isaiah 25:6-10; Phil 4:12-20; Matt 22:1-14
Dear sisters and brothers,
We have done it! We have celebrated the first synod for the Diocese and the first local synod ever after the 5th Plenary Council in Australia. Despite many challenges, not the least of which was the diversity of life experiences, perspectives and even convictions, we have gathered to pray, listen and discern the pathways into the future under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. This has been a historic event and we give thanks to God for it.
This Diocesan Synod has been a moment of grace, a celebration of hope and a deepening of commitment. Like the disciples with Mary in the Upper Room, we were bonded in one common faith, one baptism and one Lord. Despite our differences, which were many and intense at times, we have journeyed together with our gaze fixed on the Lord of the journey.
Scriptures on this 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time speak to us about hope in the time of pain and darkness. The God of our ancestors in faith does not shield us from the ebbs and flows of history. But neither does he remain unmoved by our changing fortunes. He leads us and empowers us to move beyond our fears to live a life of faith, hope, love and service. In Jesus, he calls us and forms us into living embodiment of the God who cares for his people.
In the first reading, Isaiah speaks prophetically of the renewal of Israel after the exile. He maintains against all evidence to the contrary that God will remake a battered nation and a humiliated people. A veil of mourning will be removed and a banquet of rich foods will be prepared for the poor and the remnant faithful. Tears will be wiped away from every cheek and even death be destroyed forever. Isaiah reframes the experience of his people in new and hopeful horizons. The exile, he insists, will have a transformative effect.
Isaiah’s prophecy is not about some pie in the sky or a utopia. The real challenge here for Israel is to be faithful to the vision that God committed them to ever since the exodus from Egypt. That vision is a vision of an alternative society where the poor and the vulnerable are dignified, where there is no injustice and oppression. The journey or the return to the Promised Land was not so much a physical as a spiritual exercise. To make Israel a model society and to make every believer a member of this ideal society is indeed a life-long project. Ours like the Israelites’ response to this call to mission is not fear, resistance, despair and defeat. It must be faith-filled, humble, joyful and unwavering commitment.
This is what the parable of the wedding banquet calls for. The invited have no interest in God’s invitation. They treat the king’s messengers with contempt. The wedding banquet hall is then open to all who respond despite their lowly status. Arrogance, self-righteousness, complacency on account of who we are and what we have achieved will not gain us entry into the kingdom. Rather it is how we reflect God’s limitless capacity to love and forgive. It is the garment of mercy and compassion that we are found wearing at the banquet hall.
Matthew often uses small but significant symbols to highlight the importance of authentic discipleship. Thus, for instance, the guest without the garment is disinvited and removed. The garment stands for one’s commitment to Christian living without which there is no admittance to the kingdom. Likewise, in the parable of the bridesmaids, there is no substitute for the oil of service, love and compassion.
For Matthew and the early Christian community, it is faith-in-action that matters. True discipleship consisting of selfless service to the least and the last is what puts us in good stead before the judgment seat of God. It is not one’s status, privilege and entitlement but discipleship in action that counts. Jesus repudiates the Pharisaic notion that worthiness is based on one’s attributes, abilities and connections rather than personal integrity.
Dear brothers and sisters,
We live in uncertain and challenging times. Christianity may be returning to the earlier times in terms of being a marginalized or even unpopular minority. But if we follow the example of our ancestors and the early Church in being an alternative society, a community of justice, inclusivity, solidarity, prayer and support, then it is the future worth dedicating our lives to.
Inspired by the example of Jesus and the guidance of the Holy Spirit on the Diocesan Synod, may we go forth and embody the new way of being Church together, sharing responsibility and proclaiming God’s Kingdom. In a way, our task is not yet done. It has only just begun. For being synodal is not merely an event but a new way of communion, participation and mission, which is rooted in our discipleship. As we move into a new era, may we grow to be a more fit for purpose Church, so that we can be a more effective vehicle for the Good News. May we experience renewal in our local Church today and for generations to come.