Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily for the 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B 2021
Readings: Jer 23:1-6; Eph 2:13-18; Mark 6:30-34
18 July 2021
Walking towards a better future beyond the disruption
Dear sisters and brothers,
Here we go again! Almost half of Australia is under lockdown. The latest outbreaks of COVID-19 caught many of us in NSW by surprise. Our country went from being a gold standard bearer to a pariah at the snap of the fingers.
We want to get back to normal after so much disruption and uncertainty. However, we are also growing in awareness that our “return to normal” may not be simple or even desirable. Much has changed irreversibly and will not be restored. In fact, many people, particularly those who have not been privileged, advantaged, and empowered up until this point do not want to go back. They want to go forward to a new normal that we have not known before. It remains to be seen what the new normal may be. For the people of faith, it will require a deep discernment of the spirit to negotiate the path ahead.
The Word of God today guides us in this endeavour. It speaks of a God who constantly accompanies and cares for his people like a shepherd does for his flock. This God leads us to a new and better future after each disruption and invites us to participate in the shaping of that future.
In the first reading, the prophet Jeremiah engages with the most demoralising disruption in Israel’s history. The conquest, dispossession and dispersion of God’s people into Babylon form a backdrop to his prophetic ministry. He reserves the harshest indictment to the powerful elites in Jerusalem: “Doom for the shepherds who allow the flock of my pasture to be destroyed and scattered”. On the other hand, Jeremiah comforts the exiles with the messianic prediction. “I will raise a virtuous Branch for David … and Judah will be saved.”
The mention of the Davidic style of governance is significant. It represents a prophetic imagination of a new social order that is much more than a return to the golden era of Israel’s monarchy before the exile. In fact, all the prophets speak of alternate visions for the future of God’s people. Where these visions converge is the protection and wellbeing of the poor, the vulnerable and the lost. Jeremiah, like others, invites the people to participate in the shaping of the future which accords with God’s intention.
The messianic vision of a new social order came to fulfilment in the person and ministry of Jesus. In the first part of the Gospel reading, he shows his concern for the disciples by taking them to rest and pray in a lonely place. He seems to want to school the disciples into the same rhythm of ministry alternating with times of recreation and communion with God. They cannot be bearers of healing and liberation without themselves constantly tapping the life-giving source of the capacity to do so.
In the second half, Jesus shows his compassion for the people. “He took pity on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd.” Thus, he was seen as the fulfilment of the prophetic prediction of the shepherd king who would care for the “Anawim” of God. The Church is challenged to look out upon the people through the eyes of Jesus: to see them as sheep without a shepherd – scattered, therefore, and leaderless.
Like the people in the exile, the Church today also needs true shepherds who care for God’s flock scattered, wounded and hurt. The Church, like Israel of old, will have a new future only if its leaders act not with self-interest but with integrity, justice and compassion. Furthermore, the time has come for us to embrace a more Christlike way of shepherding. New wine must be poured into new wineskins. The old wineskins of the elitist model typified by attitude of dominance, superiority and separation are no longer able to contain this new and better wine that people are yearning to drink. God’s unconditional love and preferential option for the marginalised must be acted out by our solidarity, servant-leadership at the peripheries and the edges of society.
Let us learn from him who immersed himself totally in the coalface realities of pain, suffering and isolation that many experience. It is that precarious existence where the true cost of our discipleship is counted, because we dare to walk with the Samaritans of our time, just like Jesus did before us. Ultimately, we are challenged to prod at our own sense of entitlement and to stretch our capacity to love. For that is where the God of surprises calls us to be.
In this time of disruption, may we learn to be more Christlike in our identity and mission. May we learn to stand with the least and the last. May we not to remain in self-absorption, behind looked doors of our comfort and fear of change. Instead, may we become a Church where all people, especially the “Anawim” can feel welcomed, loved, forgiven and encouraged to live the Gospel.