Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily for the 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C 2019 at Vigil Mass at St Nicholas of Myra Parish, Penrith
Readings: 2Maccabees 7:2,9-14; 2Thess 2:16-3:5 Luke 20:27-38
13 November 2019
Guided by Jesus’ Kingdom vision to make a difference
This week, I went to Papua New Guinea with a small delegation made up of representatives from various Australian Catholic organisations. We spent a few days meeting with refugees who had been transferred to Port Moresby after nearly seven years in detention on Manus Island. Away from the toxic and highly politicised atmosphere, we met them as fellow human beings and listened to their stories of pain and suffering.
We were saddened by their experiences of physical abuse and mental torture. Some were irreparably damaged. Notwithstanding the stigma and negativity they endured, we were inspired by their resilience, camaraderie and courage. One of them wrote a 500-page book entirely by text messages and it won the Australian Literary Award of the year. I shared with them my own experience of being a boat person and assured them that though the government policy has changed, there are still many Australians who care for them. The encounter made us deeply aware of our shared humanity and common struggle for dignity.
Scriptures this Sunday also inspire us with the example of courage of the Maccabees. They challenge us to move beyond the realms of personal security and wellbeing to a larger concern for God’s purpose in the world. Those who live by the ethic of the Kingdom must be guided by God’s vision of justice and human flourishing for all. Our Christian faith and discipleship must ultimately lead us to make a positive difference to the world around us.
In the first reading, we hear the heroic witness of the Maccabees during the most turbulent period in Israel’s history. The foreign ruler Antiochus had captured Jerusalem, sacked the Temple and imposed laws that were repugnant to the Jews. This led to the failed popular revolt and subsequent persecution.
Today’s episode shows how ruthless the persecution was. The Jewish mother and her seven sons were tortured to death in front of each other. Yet out of this public humiliation, the faithful remnants transcended their fears. It is the first time in the Old Testament that the belief in the resurrection of the dead is recorded here. “Relying on God’s promise”, one of the Maccabees says to his torturer, “we shall be raised up by him; whereas for you there can be no resurrection, no new life.”
The Maccabees were guided by God’s vision, which goes beyond personal gain. Such vision is clearly absent from the mode of thinking and behaviour on the part of Jesus’ opponents. Instead they show a narrow-mindedness that makes their religious observance irrelevant. The Sadducees ask Jesus a rather tricky question regarding a woman who had as many husbands as Elizabeth Taylor and Zsa Zsa Gabor. If this biblical femme fatale had been married to all of them on earth, then “in heaven whose wife of the seven husbands will she be?”
Jesus could see through their misogyny, prejudice and short sightedness. Heaven to them was no more than an extension of the earthly experience and a continuation of the status quo, albeit through a privileged position. This kind of heaven fell short of the vision of the kingdom that Jesus taught. He told his opponents that heaven is much bigger than what they understood it to be.
Rather then being a paradise of their warped imagination, heaven is a state of transcendent fullness. Hence, the children of the resurrection do not marry. He reminded them that God is God of the living, not the dead.
The question they asked was inconsequential.
He was basically saying that our concern should be expansive. We should be seeking the big stuff instead of the small stuff.
Today, we celebrate a new beginning or a new chapter in the life of this community. We give thanks for the pioneers, who have left us with the legacy of service in mission. We unite ourselves with the new shepherd Fr Jose who exemplifies the missionary spirit by his embrace of the unknown.
Together as disciples of Christ, we endeavour to be the Church that is an oasis of hope and a soothing presence for all.
Today is also designated as Prison Sunday. We recall the messianic manifesto of Jesus on his first day out in the synagogue. Prisoners were included, along with the blind and the poor. As his followers, we endeavour to see the face of Christ in them, respecting their dignity and hopefully helping them towards healing.
Our Diocese has several large prisons and many chaplains and volunteers are dedicated to bring God’s inclusive and empowering love to the prisoners. Their ministry expresses the core message of our faith.
Let us renew our commitment to be the true followers of Christ in stretching our capacity to love. Scriptures today challenge us to move beyond the limits of our own life.
We cannot be true to the Gospel if we safeguard our privileges and fail to deliver justice and human dignity to those who are unjustly deprived of it. May God’s vision of a dignified life for all guide our attitudes and actions.
May we be agents and catalysts for a world that God inspires us and empowers us to build.