Bishop Vincent’s Homily: The rock of foundation versus the stumbling block

By Bishop Vincent Long OFM Conv, 29 August 2023
Bishop Vincent Long OFM Conv, Bishop of Parramatta. Image: Diocese of Parramatta.


Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta

Homily for the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A 2023 and the installation of Fr Wojciech Sliwa OSPPE as Parish Priest at St Margaret Mary’s Parish, Merrylands

Readings: Isaiah 22:19-23; Psalm 137(138):1-3, 6, 8; Romans 11:33-36; Matthew 16:13-20

26 August 2023


The rock of foundation versus the stumbling block


Brothers and sisters in Christ,

We live in one of the best countries in the world – a country where there is a stable democracy, basic freedoms, respect for human rights, equal opportunity, diversity, the rule of law and a thriving market economy. However, as the Pope pointed out, the pandemic has exposed the Achilles’ heel of Western society. The trickle-down model or winners-take-all system leaves behind the weak, the vulnerable and the needy. We cannot have a viable community when its ties are fractured, when the common good of humanity, the longevity of indigenous cultures and the planet’s sustainability are at stake.

Scriptures for this 21st Sunday exhort us to make the care for the vulnerable and the ethics of God’s Kingdom the foundation or the bedrock of our Christian lives. Professing our faith in Christ means not only a personal conversion to his way of living but also a social commitment to transform the world according to his Kingdom vision.

The first reading was written in the context of the gradual disintegration of Israel before the exile. This period was marked by apathy and political opportunism. It was kind of a “grab what you can” mindset that infected the leading citizens. This was what Shebna, the king’s treasurer was doing. Isaiah denounces Shebna’s machinations and failure to care for the people. In his place, Eliakim was chosen to be “the father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and the House of Judah”. This prophecy is messianic in that Eliakim was a figure of the ideal ruler who would bring God’s true justice, love and compassion to the people.

The Gospel follows the theme of the first reading. It is set in Caesarea Philippi, the name that suggests the omnipresence and power of the Roman Emperor. Caesar claimed to be God’s Son and ruled the world with violence. His Pax Romana or a security system was imposed on Israel with ruthless military might.

Caesar’s claim turned out to be false, because there was only one true Son of God and it was Jesus/ This is the Gospel’s subtle but unequivocal assertion. Peter’s response “you are the Christ, the Son of the living God” in effect meant a rejection of Caesar. But more importantly, for Jesus, believing in him meant also a rejection of the imperial mindset and an acceptance of the Kngdom and its ethics of justice, love and compassion.

Peter is praised for recognising the Messiah. He is called the rock. However, the rock can be either the cornerstone or the stumbling block. So long as Peter lives out the call to emulate the Suffering Servant, he is the rock of strength. But if he refuses to be part of Christ’s suffering and reverts to the imperial model of behaviour, he becomes the rock of offense. Indeed, Peter is soon rebuked and called a stumbling block precisely because he wants to remove the cross from the mission of the Christ and Christian discipleship.

Peter has a steep learning curve on his way to be the foundation stone for the Christian community. Like Paul falling from his high horse, Peter also has his pride and ambition checked. He learned to understand the depth of Jesus’ messianic identity and mission which was grounded in the self-giving nature of God. Ultimately, he learned to live and die with this divine impulse.

Dear friends,

The Word of God requires us not only to profess the Christ but also to embed his Kingdom values into our lives and society. We cannot live our faith to the full without embracing the challenge of the contrast society that our Jewish forebears attested to and the Kingdom vision that Jesus proclaimed by his words and deeds.

The early Christians understood the significance of being fundamentally counter-cultural in how they lived, how they related, how they shared resources and how they showed the characteristics of an alternative society. Their commitment to the kingdom vision of Jesus inspires us as we endeavour to influence our society for the common good and to act as the critical yeast for the critical time.

Today, with the installation of Fr Wojciech as a new pastor, we celebrate a new chapter in the life of this parish community here at Merrylands. I am grateful to the Hermits of St Paul for their leadership and care for the people of God according to their unique charism. They have imbued St Margaret Mary’s with spirit of contemplation, faith and a special devotion to Our Lady as typified at Jasna Góra, their famous home in Poland. I want to express particular gratitude to Fr Janusz who has guided this community with such generosity, hospitality and dedication. Fr Wojciech has big shoes to fill, but I am confident that he will rise to the new challenge and like a good steward, he will work with you in bringing forth treasures both old and new, for the benefit of the community.

Let us pray that we may live up to our call to be the leaven of the world and the model society under God’s rule. Grounded by the rich knowledge and wisdom of God, may we not only profess the true Messiah as Peter did but also live out the self-emptying nature of the true Son of God by our love and service to one another.


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