Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily for the Vigil Mass for the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe in Year C 2019 at Christ the King Parish, North Rocks
Readings: 2Sam 5:1-3; Col 1:12-20; Luke 23:35-43
23 November 2019
Bonded by the Kingdom vision of Christ
Brothers and sisters,
The best of human nature can be manifested in the most unlikely places and among the most unlikely people. This was driven home to me during my visit to the refugees in PNG.
I was deeply touched by their resilience, camaraderie and humanity in the face of harrowing tragedy. The treatment of Australia towards them, either through our government policy, media bias or general misconception can at best be described as uncharacteristic of our tradition.
For over six years, they have been demonised, deprived of their just rights and subjected to physical and mental torture. Many of them succumbed to the ordeal, irreparably damaged and even perished by self-harm. But others defied the odds and showed amazing capacity for endurance, resourcefulness and empathy. One managed to write an award-winning book entirely by text messages.
There is something inspiring about people who are bonded in tragedy and yet united in common humanity. I learned more from these men than whatever support and solidarity I could offer them. They may not all be Christians, but they were examples to us Christian visitors of what it means to live the Beatitudes. They have endured harsh treatment for seeking what is right and have decided to look after each other. Their humanity shines through the darkness of inhumanity.
The Word of God this Sunday also speaks of the best of human nature and God’s revelation in the most unexpected of people and places. It surprises, challenges and shakes us out of our familiarity and security, our certitudes and prejudices. On this Sunday of Christ the King, we are reminded of the God who prods at our privileged position and sense of entitlement; the God who subverts our comfortable status quo. He demands nothing short of a radical alignment of our attitude and behaviour with His vision of a dignified life for all.
In the first reading, we hear the story of the unlikely election of David as the new king of Israel. It took place at Hebron, an insignificant city in comparison to Jerusalem where Saul reigned supreme. In another episode, David the smallest, was chosen ahead of his elder stronger brothers. Here, he is pitched as the underdog against the mighty Saul. The story puts in bold relief the biblical notion of God favouring the underprivileged, the common and the unworthy.
St Paul would say “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.” To put it in another way, God reveals through the poor rather than the narrow channel of the privileged.
The Gospel story, too, speaks of such a God. We are at the pivotal moment about which Luke adds a unique feature: he describes the conversation of Jesus with the two criminals and the way God’s love breaks through human barrier. It was a moment of absolute hopelessness. As Jesus was dying on the cross, one of the criminals added insult to injury: “He saved others, let him save himself if he is the Christ of God.” Perhaps this remark simply reflects his and our incomprehension at the God of total powerlessness and vulnerability.
In the midst of despair, pain and loss beyond telling, we witness the triumph of God’s love. The good thief recognises the way of the powerless Messiah and entrusts his fate to him. “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom”. Unlike his fellow criminal, he has come to understand Jesus’ Kingdom vision of love in vulnerability. The sinner becomes the unlikely saint. “Indeed I promise you, today, you will be with me in paradise.” The revelation of God’s love breaks through the barrier of prejudice and criminality.
Brothers and sisters,
On this Feast of Christ the King, we renew our commitment to follow the radical and subversive way of Jesus. The Gospel challenges us to expand our limited horizons, to find goodness, blessings and opportunities disguised in the harsh realities of life, to discover beauty, love and dignity in the unlikely characters around us.
Jesus is the King, but one who identified himself with the marginalised. He walked the dangerous walk with people who were kept at a distance from the powerful and the privileged. We must challenge the prevalent mindset of dominance and exclusion. We must follow his example in forging common bonds of humanity in the face of fear. We must be a community of hospitality, compassion and neighbourliness that serves as reminder to what our nation can be and should be.
No matter who we are and where we are the the journey, we are united by Kingdom vision of Jesus. Let us put into action a new paradigm of shared humanity, equality, inclusion and human flourishing.
We must continue to be a Church where all people, especially the most vulnerable can feel welcomed, loved and encouraged to live according to the Gospel. As long as we embody that vision of Church in our practice, we become a lighthouse for the world.
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.