Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily for the 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B, St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta
Readings: Jeremiah 31:7-9; Hebrews 5:1-6; Mark 10:46-52
20 October 2018
Called to be a beacon of hope in our Jericho
Two weeks ago, Pope Francis canonised St Oscar Romero who along with contemporary icons such as Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela has become a universal symbol of hope for the poor and the oppressed. Oscar was a fearless critic of the military government and a defender of his people of El Salvador. On the eve of his assassination which took place while he was celebrating Mass, he told the soldiers:“In the name of God, in the name of this suffering people whose cries rise to heaven more loudly each day, I implore you, I beg you, I order you in the name of God: Stop the repression!” In the most hopeless of circumstances, Oscar was able to envision a new future for his people and galvanise them to work towards a better tomorrow. His martyrdom immortalises him as a beacon of light and a symbol of hope that springs eternal.
The Word of God this Sunday also enables us to live our own time of adversity with courage, faith and hope. It opens us to the God who is not aloof and indifferent but intimately involved with our daily struggles. In Jesus who ministers at the precarious frontiers of human existence, we are invited to join with him and one another in the mission of making God’s kingdom a reality.
In the first reading, the prophet Jeremiah speaks words of comfort and hope to his people. During the long and harrowing exile in Babylon, many of them had given up their ancestors’ faith and drifted away. Those who remained loyal and steadfast in spite of the ordeal came to be known in the prophetic literature as the remnants of Israel. These were not the movers and shakers, the elites and the echelons of Jewish society. Rather the remnants were the people considered to be the lowliest and the most vulnerable among the exiles. Jeremiah referred to them as “the blind, the lame, women with child and women in labour”. He galvanised them with fresh hope. He prophesied that God would bring them back from captivity and they would rebuild Israel.
This is a sobering and poignant lesson for the Church today. Like the Jewish exiles of old, we find ourselves in a new captivity where the bearings we relied on are fast receding. Instead, we are surrounded by a unfamiliar and even hostile landscape. No longer sheltered in the safe harbour of Christendom, we must nagivate the treacherous waters of a post-Christian world. The litmus test for us as it was for the remnants of Israel is not seek to reassert our dominance and return to our once safe world, but to grow strong in our faith through times of chaos. Jeremiah like the other great prophets of the exile called the people to engage with the world around them and to be the beacon of light. We have much to learn from our ancestors in faith. Like the remnants of Israel, we must learn to be an alternative society of solidarity, compassion, justice and love in the midst of the brave new world around us.
The Gospel depicts Jesus as one who engenders hope in despair, light in darkness and grace in vulnerability. He and his disciples were found around Jericho which was a long way outside their familiar territory in Galilee. Jericho is a rich symbol for God’s inclusive embrace. It was the site of the battle against the Canaanites in the Old Testament and also the place of grace-filled encounters with life-changing stories of Zaccheus and the Good Samaritan.
Today’s episode is no less powerful. Jesus met, healed and changed the life of the blind beggar. He saw the faith and dignity of someone whom society dismissed as inconsequential. In the midst of public rejection and condemnation, Jesus recognised and affirmed the beggar’s spiritual maturity and vision. “Your faith has saved you” he said. For Bartimaeus was able to see that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of David.
The Word of God this Sunday also enables us to live our own time of adversity with courage, faith and hope.
Jesus manifested the God who surrounded himself with human vulnerability and insecurity. To be a true believer and an authentic disciple is to do likewise. It is to embrace and accompany the most vulnerable; it is to go and serve them at the liminal and precarious places; it is to transform them into life-changing encounters.
Brothers and sisters,
In the midst of our own darkness, we need the vision that Jeremiah gave to the exiles and Jesus gave to Bartimaeus. Like the remnants of Israel, it is by living our faith through the chaos of captivity rather than by yearning for past securities that we find new life. Like them, we learn the art of agile, resilient, humble and faithful witness. The Gospel invites us to imitate Jesus who engendered hope in despair, light in darkness and grace in vulnerability. Let us not be afraid to go and serve the vulnerable in the Jerichos of our time. For it is in these places of extreme hopelessness and vulnerability that we meet the God of hope and transformation. Let us pray that we can be beacons of light and hope by way of our discipleship of mission and service. May the example of Oscar Romero inspire us to work for God’s kingdom and its justice.