‘Dear friends’ – Bishop Vincent’s homily from 13 February 2022

14 February 2022
Bishop Vincent Long OFM Conv, Bishop of Parramatta. Image: Diocese of Parramatta

 

Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta

Homily for the Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: Jeremiah 17:5-8; 1 Corinthians 15:12-20; Luke 6:17-26

Embodying God’s self-emptying love for the suffering

Sisters and brothers,

A couple of days ago, I watched a very confronting episode of Foreign Correspondent on ABC TV. It was a story about Afghanistan under the Taliban rule through the eyes of an Afghan-born Sydney-raised journalist. While there are parts of the country where people are devastated by the Taliban takeover, other parts where they are relieved that the war is over after almost two decades caught in the crossfire. It is devasting to see any gains under the Western-backed government being rolled back, things that we take for granted in Australia such as education for girls or employment for women. It is even more tragic to witness children dying from malnourishment and diseases.  I was left wondering how fortunate I am to be able to live in one of the safest and wealthiest countries on earth. But I was also challenged with the question as to what people with nothing but endless suffering can teach me.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer the German pastor who was imprisoned and killed by the Nazis observed: “We must learn to regard people less in light of what they do or omit to do, and more in the light of what they suffer”. This is the prism through which we are challenged to see our brothers and sisters –regardless of their background and status. Commitment to the vulnerable and the marginalized is central to being a Christian. It is not optional. For the core belief of Christianity is God’s self-emptying journey to the cross for the sake of broken humanity.

This is the teaching of scriptures this Sunday. Jeremiah in the first reading puts a simple but radical choice before his people: either they put their trust in God or in themselves. It was not an easy choice for them, especially when everyone else was opting for the strongest alliance and the safest security system. With the imminent threat of invasion by the Assyrians and the ensuing chaos, the Israelites were pressured to ally themselves with the strong, the wealthy and the powerful. Jeremiah speaks the small voice of fidelity, integrity and justice in the midst of fear, self-interest and opportunism. He urges the people to stake everything on God’s covenant, rather than on human security through power and might.

The Gospel presents us with a similar if not more decisive challenge. Jesus puts to his disciples an alternative vision of life, which is polar opposite to what the dominant imperial system has to offer. His golden sermon, as it is known, begins the same way the Gospel of Luke as a whole begins, by painting a picture of a world turned upside down. In contrast to Mathew’s sermon on the mount, Luke’s prism is from below. He has Jesus sit on the plain and in the midst of ordinary people. In previous episodes, we have heard that his mission was aligned with God’s compassion for the vulnerable, including the blind, the deaf, the captive and the downtrodden. He was sent to bring outsiders inside God’s circle of love. Jesus’ subversive message and style would continue to be characterised by a radical embrace of the poor and equally radical challenge to the privileged.

“How happy are you who are poor; yours is the kingdom of God.” The beatitudes identify those who God has a special concern for. They are the hungry, the sorrowful and persecuted. Jesus echoes a world turned upside down that Mary sings in the Magnificat: the lowly raised and the mighty cast down, the hungry filled and the rich empty-handed. These are the people God notices and blesses.

Jesus is also clear that wealth and privilege are real dangers that have the power to separate one from God and from the human community. Jesus spells out the “woes” of which the comfortable and wealthy better beware. The kingdom of God belongs to those who have nothing except God.

Jesus teaches us that happiness does not reside in possessions, successes or achievements. Real happiness resides in a heart open to loving, to giving, to caring, to enhancing the lives of others even to the point of dying for the ones we love. Jesus invites us to find this kind of happiness through a life of witness, service and solidarity.

Dear friends,

The value system of Jesus upsets and turns upside down the value system of the world. This is evident not just through the teachings and parables of Jesus but even more so by his own life and ministry. In Jesus, we worship a God who was not content to look down upon us from some safe haven, light years away. We follow a saviour who gets down, right down on the same plain with those in the deepest pain, with those who have nothing left.

In the world where public responsibility is on the wane and the most privileged desperately work to improve their private estate, we are called to an economy of solidarity, justice and compassion. May we follow the example of Jesus in living for others and embodying God’s self-emptying love for the suffering.

 

 

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