Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily for the 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A 2020 at the Parish of Richmond, Richmond
Readings: Is 56:1-7; Romans 11:13-32; Matthew 15:21-28
16 August 2020
Walking with God beyond our limited horizons
This morning, even in the shadow of the coronavirus pandemic, we gather in the spirit of faith, hope, and love as we pray for Fr Gayan Thamel’s ministry of service and leadership in this parish community. I am confident that he will work with you in building on the legacy of the past as well as meeting the new challenges of the future.
Fr Gayan came to our Diocese as a resident chaplain to the Royal Australian Air Force base here in Richmond. Flying and especially military aviation have been bred in him since childhood in Sri Lanka. It was this dream, coupled with his calling to the priesthood, that brought him to the Diocese of Bunbury some 20 years ago. In God’s providence, Fr Gayan is uniquely placed as both the pastor of Richmond parish and the chaplain to the RAAF base. God certainly has a way to use people we least suspect to carry out His will for us at a particular time.
In fact, that is the theme of our Scripture today. It alerts us to the unsuspecting ways through which God makes himself present to us and leads us on a journey of greater fidelity and more authentic discipleship. In the first reading, the prophet Isaiah reminds the people in exile: “Have a care for justice, act with integrity and the Lord’s salvation will come”. He then goes on to spell out in concrete terms what it means to care for justice and to act with integrity. It means to embrace foreigners and others who are considered outsiders. “My house”, Isaiah proclaims, “shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” This proclamation is no small matter to the Jewish exiles. It amounts to a seismic shift in their understanding of who God is and what it means to be His people: a tribal deity gives way to a universal and all embracing God. A narrow definition of the chosen is replaced by a more inclusive vision. Perhaps, that was the greatest learning for God’s people in the time of trial. It was a silver lining in the dark cloud of the long exile.
I wonder how Christians who have heard these prophetic words over the centuries could justify or be complicit in slavery, segregation, apartheid, anti-Semitism, sexism, homophobia, and other discriminatory attitudes and practices. If we allow God’s word to probe more deeply, perhaps we will find traces of our own sense of entitlement and our claim to what is ours at the exclusion of others.
In the Gospel, Jesus also challenges such a mentality and shows that God is often found in the unlikely. Already in the preceding chapter, he disputes with the Pharisees in relation to the laws of ritual purity. He shows that God is more concerned about the inside of the person than the outside. Here, in the encounter with the Canaanite woman, Jesus again affirms that the heart is more important than physical, racial, and gender boundaries. Against all odds, including the initial indifference of Jesus, the poor woman shows herself to be an intelligent, engaging, and faith-filled person. She is like the centurion who is praised for the depth of faith beyond her social status, race, and gender.
This is a giant leap in boundary-crossing because in Jewish minds, foreigners are expendable. After all, in the book of Deuteronomy, Joshua was given a command to utterly destroy all the Canaanites. In recognising the faith of a Gentile woman, Jesus makes a hero out of an anti-hero in conventional wisdom. This is his trademark. He makes a hero of a Samaritan leper, a Samaritan woman, a tax collector Zaccheus, a blind beggar Bartimaeus and other marginalised characters. He turns our sense of privilege and entitlement on its head. He shakes us out of our comfort zone. He challenges us to do a little bit of boundary crossing in order to appreciate what I’d call “the otherness” of God.
We need to be alert and open to God’s saving grace even in the most unlikely places and people. It is a fallacy and a delusion to think that we have the answer to every problem there is. Pope Francis says that the Church needs to know how to recognise the Lord’s action in the world, in culture and in people’s daily lives and experiences. It calls us to broaden our perspective to be mindful of the truth, goodness, and shared values even among people who differ from or oppose us.
Today as we celebrate a new beginning or a new chapter in the life of this community. 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 pushes us to compete or conform, but God calls us to a different way: working together, needing each other, being the body of Christ. We 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.