Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily for the 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C 2019 at Vigil Mass at St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta
Readings: Habakkuk 1:2-3, 2:2-4; 2Tim 1:6-14; Luke 17:5-10
13 October 2019
Fear of the other versus the God of radical inclusion
Fear of outsiders is one of the oldest built-in human tendencies. It is our natural instinct to be fearful of those whom we perceive as a threat to our identity and our way of life.
In the globalised world where the movement of people from one country to another is commonplace, this deep fear can be easily stoked.
We have already seen the rise of populist politics, which often exploit the idea that the privilege and power of the majority have been undermined or threatened by minority groups.
The Word of God today speaks to us about the God of surprises. It challenges us to broaden our minds, widen our horizons, enlarge our hearts and stretch our capacity to love. We need to be alert and open to God’s saving grace even in the most unlikely places and people.
In the first reading, we are told of an interesting encounter between Elisha the prophet and Naaman the Syrian army officer who is also a leper.
Naaman was told to wash himself in the muddy pool by the roadside and was offended by the prophet’s invitation. “Surely I have better and cleaner pools than this in order to wash myself clean” he contended.
However, Naaman overcame his initial repugnance, immersed himself in the dirty water and found himself cured of his leprosy.
What is revolutionary about the story is the fact that he was a non-Jew and that God’s love was stretched to reach a physically and ritually unclean person.
We are reminded of the story of Jonah and his reluctance to go and preach forgiveness to the pagans of Nineveh. Even in primitive times, God’s people were called to stretch their capacity to love. The story of Naaman is one of the breakthrough moments in the Old Testament.
Meanwhile, the Gospel makes it even clearer that God sees beyond appearances. We are told that Jesus met and healed ten lepers along the border between Samaria and Galilee.
They had been isolated, ostracised and condemned to a life at the margins of society. Jesus was an expert at meeting people in that precarious space, which is why the Gospel is at pains to point out the location of their encounter.
He identified himself with the marginalised by immersing himself at the margins. He walked the dangerous walk with people who were kept at a distance from the powerful and the privileged.
Now, one thing that makes this story unusual is that these lepers are travelling with a Samaritan. Not only is this man a leper, but he is also a member of a despised group as far as Jews are concerned. He is physically, as well as spiritually, unacceptable. A total outcast.
Yet, it is he who showed an extraordinary depth of faith and gratitude. This encounter would have set the scene for Jesus’ Parable of the Good Samaritan.
It was the story of the unlikely hero: the outsider became the insider, the outcast became God’s favoured, the last first.
Jesus in turn challenges us to expand our limited horizons, to find goodness, blessings and opportunities disguised in the harsh realities of life, to discover beauty, love and dignity in the unlikely characters around us.
The Word of God is rich with many layers of meanings and lessons for us. We could identify ourselves with the Samaritan leper and return to give thanks to God. For like him, we realise our unworthiness and find in Christ’s unconditional acceptance the source of our dignity and authenticity.
We could also learn from Christ who immersed himself totally in the coalface realities of pain, suffering, isolation and condemnation that many experience.
It is that precarious existence where the true cost of our discipleship is counted, because we dare to walk with the Samaritans of our time, just like Jesus did before us.
They could be asylum seekers, the homeless, the indigenous, the victims of injustice, the Muslim refugees et cetera.
Ultimately, we are challenged to prod at our own sense of entitlement and to stretch our capacity to love. For that is where the God of surprises calls us to be.
It was a reality check for the disciples to know that God acted outside their narrow confines of religion, race, ethnicity and culture.
Today, we too need that kind of reality check. We need to know that we do not have a monopoly on salvation. More importantly, it is our humble service to the needy and the vulnerable that is the hallmark of Christian discipleship.
In the light of the scripture today, we pledge to create an environment where fear of differences is replaced by encouraging all people to share their gifts.
The world often makes outsiders into enemies or rivals, but God calls us to greater openness to the surprising ways in which He conveys His presence and power.
Let us commit ourselves to walk as pilgrims open to be formed and enriched by the journey.
May we in all the upheaval and chaos around us learn to act justly, love tenderly and walk humbly with the God of surprises.