Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily for the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C 2019
Readings: Ex 32:7-14; 1Tim 1:12-17; Luke 15:1-10
15 September 2019
Everyone matters in God’s eyes
Brothers and sisters,
It is said that how a society treats its most vulnerable – whether the unborn, the infirm, the elderly, the people seeking asylum, the socially and economically disadvantaged – is always the measure of its humanity and civility. This is even more so during the time of increasing inequality, economic downturn and global uncertainty.
Australia prides itself on being such a society. We have long treasured our tradition of “a fair go”. We cherish the notion that we are all equal and we have a common footing. These days, however, that deeply cherished sense of a fair go has been steadily eroded and we are facing a real danger of becoming a less inclusive society. Fear has turned fellow human beings into enemies.
The Word of God this Sunday calls us to reverse this trend by caring for the weak and to creating a community where the common good is at the heart of its agenda. The message of love, mercy and compassion within God’s vision of communion, solidarity and distributive justice is set against the ruthless, competitive, inhumane, survival of the fittest mindset of the world.
We are challenged to stretch the limits of our capacity to love in the way that mirrors the boundless mercy of God himself. Only by living and witnessing to the message of love, mercy and compassion can we be the authentic disciples of Jesus and the voice of conscience for our society.
In the first reading, we hear the message of God’s mercy in the story of the golden calf. The Israelites made an image of idol because they had tired of waiting for Moses who was on the mountain to receive the tablets of the law. What follows is a threat of punishment and a revelation of God’s compassion. Moses pleaded for his people and God relented. Yahweh reveals to be a God who in spite of Israel’s sinfulness, wishes to be merciful rather than hard-hearted. God has a strong familial bond with the people of Israel and is prepared to see beyond human frailty.
We have in Exodus the early evidence that God’s true character is not that of the smiter but is the one we have met face to face in Jesus Christ, the one in whom God became ultimately vulnerable, in whom God’s love overwhelmed God’s justice. God is a lover, not a destroyer.
The Gospel reading further expands the parameters of divine pathos. If in the Old Testament, we see glimpses of the magnanimity with which God acts against the background of primitive human morality, his self-disclosure in Jesus is even more decisive and groundbreaking. Here in his humanity, God breaks our narrow confines and stereotypes. He challenges the status quo that favours the privileged and calls us to a new way of seeing, judging and acting in respect of the marginalised and the vulnerable.
The Parable of the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin is essentially about counting. In The Sound of Music, Maria the nun-nanny often counts the number of the von Trapp children after a day out to ensure that everyone is accounted for. The parable that Jesus tells today carries a similar message. In God’s maternal love, he does not rest until everyone has been accounted for.
Pope Francis has put this message at the centre of his agenda. The Church for him is not a museum for saints or an enclosure for the virtuous but a field hospital for the wounded. It is this radical embrace of the vulnerable that is so powerfully shown by him at places like refugee camps, prisons, slumps and hospitals. It is this unashamed solidarity with people at the margins, that made him the object of criticism even inside the Church.
Jesus, too, was criticised for welcoming tax collectors and sinners. Perhaps that is the cost of love we must not shy from. We are called to practice an ethic of concern, care, support for one another so no one is excluded from the table or left behind; we are challenged to be a community of hospitality, compassion and inclusion, which is an alternative to the populist politics of individual prosperity, security and self-interest at the expense of the poor and those on Struggle Street.
The world operates out of merit based system that disadvantages the needy and discards the outsiders. God calls us to be people who care for the vulnerable and the common good. The Kingdom ethic of Jesus prods at our sense of entitlement and challenges the harsh calculus of our political system.
Let us live by this Kingdom ethic and put into action a new paradigm of shared humanity, equality, inclusion and human flourishing. May we as the body of Christ learn to be the conduit of mercy, the sign of hope and the voice of conscience for our society.