Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily for the Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C, 27 February 2022
Readings: Ecclesiasticus 27:4-7; 1 Corinthians 15:54-58; Luke 6:39-45
Living the call to be the headlights for humanity
Dear brothers and sisters,
Once again, the world has been thrown into shock, chaos and despair. The unprovoked military assault against Ukraine is unfolding before us with all its ferocity and ruthlessness. We are saddened by the scale of destruction and overwhelmed by the prevalence of evil. However, as people of faith, we are united in solidarity with those protesting against the war, some at the cost of their own safety, with those fighting for justice and especially with the suffering innocent. We are inspired by the kingdom vision of Jesus and strengthened by the hope that it will prevail despite all things to the contrary.
The Word of God challenges us to be a force for positive transformation in the world. At the end of the day, we are known by the fruits that we bear and the impact that we make. Christian faith is not merely concerned with the afterlife, individual salvation and privatism. Rather, it has a much broader focus and a lofty vision. The God that Jesus revealed impels us to build the Kingdom that embraces all of life in the universe. Following his footsteps, we are called to be people who are on the side of truth, justice, dignity, starting with the oppressed with those who are most impacted, including creation.
The book of Ecclesiasticus, also known as Sirach, is a collection of ethical teachings gleaned from various sources over the centuries. They show a profound knowledge of the human heart, a caution towards power and wealth, a deep empathy with the poor and the oppressed. In today’s episode, there is a popular maxim that says a tree is judged on the quality of its fruit. A warning is sounded against any hasty judgement based on appearances.
This warning is consistent with the biblical tradition. In God’s scheme of things, it is often the small beginnings, insignificant events and people, which lead to the fulfilment of God’s purpose. Whereas might is right according to the logic of the empire, it is faith in vulnerability, powerlessness and smallness that wins the day according to the logic of the Bible.
In the Gospel today, Jesus is scathing in his attack against hypocrisy. “Why do you observe the splinter in your brother’s eye and never notice the plank in your own? Hypocrite! Take the plank out of your own eye and then you will see clearly enough to take out the splinter that is in your brother’s eye.” Jesus demands integrity of the highest order from those who are in the business of guiding others, lest they become an obstacle instead of a guiding light.
That is a sobering and poignant lesson for the Church today. In our modern context where the Church has lost much of its shine, Jesus’ call for integrity challenges us to be authentic to who we are. The Church as an institution has been shown to prioritise its own interests over those of the victims of sexual abuse. In the spirit of humility and repentance, we need to focus our attention squarely on how we follow the compassionate Jesus and how authentic we are in being the sacrament of God’s compassion and care for the least and the last.
“Shine on the world like bright stars,” says the Gospel acclamation. We are called to be a beacon of light for the world by the measure of our authentic witness. This authenticity lies in our courage to be the voice of the minority and the conscience of those who are marginalised by society. We are called to be like the prophets of old who have the burning passion, urgency, discomfort and the itch to speak God’s alternate vision for humanity. Now we need to embody that vision in living as contrast communities, avoiding cultural accommodation and demonstrating a different way to be a society.
My dear friends,
We are living through a trying time in the Church. As Church leaders, we bishops and priests have a particular duty in living the Gospel message with integrity; we have a particular duty in regaining a sense of trust and credibility through our authentic witness. Only by dying to power, domination, ostentation and rising to humility, simplicity, and servant-hood can we be catalysts for renewal and agents of the Gospel. At a time when the global structures are faltering, the world needs more than ever the witness of a Christian community united in its effort to honour the dignity and worth of every human person, to serve the common good and live as one with God’s creation.
As we approach the Lenten season, let us commit ourselves to being on the side of the suffering and the afflicted by way of the discipline of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. “Never give in, my dear friends,” Paul tells us in the second reading. Let us not give in to despair, denial and defeatism but “keep on working” to bring about the Kingdom vision of Jesus. Then less centred on our own security and more focused and engaged with God’s concern for the world, we can be a leavening force for positive transformation.