Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Lent, Year C 2022
Readings: Joshua 5:9-12; Psalm 33(34):2-7; 2 Corinthians 5:17-21; Luke 15:1-3, 11-32
God’s mercy dismantles our merit-based system
Dear brothers and sisters,
This week, there have been a couple of good news stories amidst the ongoing tragic situation in Ukraine and its flow-on effects to the rest of the world. First, there was a happy ending to the search for a little girl in Tasmania. She was found safe and well after having gone missing for two days in the woods. After what happened to those children involved in the jumping castle incident, we breathed a collective sigh of relief.
The other piece of news is also worth celebrating, even though it does not make headlines. The federal government has finally agreed to resettle 450 refugees in New Zealand, nine years after the deal was offered. They have been held in detention mostly in Papua New Guinea and Nauru even though they were assessed to be genuine refugees, no more and no less than those fleeing from Ukraine today. As advocates for a compassionate and globally responsible Australia, we continue the Church’s role in welcoming and assisting people seeking asylum.
Indeed, we endeavour to follow the example of the early Christian community. They embraced a new social order that overturned the world’s trickle-down and winner-take-all system because it was rooted in Jesus’s radical acceptance, solidarity and preferential option for the disadvantaged. They formed an intentional community where the care economy for all and especially the vulnerable was its beating heart.
The Word of God today guides us in this endeavour. It speaks of a God who is interested more in our future than our past. This God challenges the culture of entitlement and the survival of the fittest. He points us to a whole new way of living and relating. Against the human calculus that makes certain groups of people expendable, He invites us to a new paradigm of inclusion and human flourishing.
The reading from the Book of Joshua speaks of the impending occupation of the land of promise and the new era of settlement. It was a transition time that required the people’s attentive hearing and sensibility. Joshua was told: “Today, I have taken the shame of Egypt away from you”. The exodus was a journey of transformation. It was meant to move the people from slavery to freedom. However, this freedom was to be internalised and appropriated by the way they loved, respected and treated each other and the strangers among them.
In other words, the Israelites have the moral obligation to build a community that is the antithesis of Egypt from which they were delivered. They must form a new society that embodies God’s vision for them, one that cares for the poor, the indebted and the oppressed.
The parable of the Prodigal Son describes a patient loving God who knows that love can never be commanded. Rather, while love must be awaited, God responds to a little love with overwhelming, unrelenting, unrepayable generosity and joy. The father welcomes back the wayward son and lavishes on him with gifts upon his return. Meanwhile, the older son who stays home and does not break the rules refuses to share his father’s unbridled joy. He shows himself incapable of forgiving and accepting his repentant brother.
The parable, therefore, prods at our sense of entitlement and our claim to what is ours at the exclusion of those whom we consider less worthy. It challenges us to think and act in the way that God in Jesus has shown us, which is based on the justice of the kingdom and the very mercy of God.
Brothers and sisters,
God’s Word invites us to be open to God’s offer of mercy. Wherever we are in our journey of faith and life, whether we are like the first or the second son, God joins us and accompanies us to greater transformation. The genius of the biblical revelation is that it refuses to deny the dark side of things but forgives failure and integrates falling to achieve wholeness.
As a counterpoint to the two not-so-wonderful sons of the parable, we catch a glimpse of another son, a son who never complains against the father. He is a Son who will also spend the entire inheritance he has received from his Father, down to the last penny – or rather the last drop of blood – to pour it out and give it back to us.
Pope Francis is fond of saying that the Church is not a museum for saints or an enclosure for the virtuous. Let us endeavour to live the radical grace of God that turns outsiders into insiders. As we recognise our own need for repentance and conversion, let us be the Church that reaches out to embrace, accompany, encourage, and engage with people’s struggles, wounds and failings. Then we can truly be the custodians of the legacy of the early Christian community that was a powerhouse of prayer, solidarity and love.