‘Dear friends’ – Bishop Vincent’s homily from 16 October 2022

17 October 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 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C.

Readings: Exodus 17:8-13; Psalm 120(121); 2 Timothy 3:14 – 4:2; Luke 18:1-8

16 October 2022

 

Tenacity and grace-fuelled perseverance in the face of the impossible

 

Dear friends,

There is so much that is not right in the world and in our own society today: war in Ukraine, violence, human trafficking, environmental destruction, growing gap between the rich and the poor, left versus right polarisation, rising xenophobia etc… It is easy for us to be overwhelmed and numbed. It is even more difficult for those of us who stand up to challenge the blind spots in our own culture. We fear being rejected or labelled by others. We feel a sense of fatigue or even frustration. We are tempted to give up the good fight and take a back seat. We are at risk of becoming paralysed by what Pope St John Paul II called the “supposed impossibility of changing the world”.

Today’s scriptures encourage us not to give up but to persevere in the work of healing, reconciliation, justice and the realisation of God’s reign in the world. When we come up against the overwhelming forces of darkness or discouraged by our own limitations and failures, we are reminded that God’s love never gives up on us. We must plant and water the seeds of the Kingdom even if harvest is not within our horizons.

In the Old Testament, Moses is the embodiment of the virtue of hope in the face of seemingly unfulfilled promise. He was told to lead the Israelites into a new land of freedom which he only managed to see from a misty distance on Mount Nebo. In the story of the battle against the Amalekites, Moses prayed on the mountain and provided spiritual strength to Joshua and his army fighting the enemy below.

This is the first battle the Israelites have fought since the Exodus. Moses standing with the staff on the hilltop assures Joshua and his men of Moses’ confidence that God is actively involved in their struggle. The staff of God is only effective as the people involved do their part. It is not a magic stick. There is not lightning or power flowing from the staff, striking down the Amalekites in some Raiders of the Lost Ark fashion. Victory and success are the result of the people persevering in their mission and trusting in God’s presence and power at work among them.

In the Gospel, Jesus teaches his disciples a model prayer and then follows up with a parable about praying as part of their response to God’s integral vision. In the Our Father, Jesus situates our concerns in the larger context of the Kingdom and its values. This is not to dismiss our personal needs and petitions as unworthy and unnecessary. Jesus teaches us that God is the God who cares for the whole of life, even its minuscule detail. God is the God of goodness who knows and gives what his children need. However, it is being aligned with the mind of God and having God’s expansive vision that we can bring all of life to its proper end.

The parable of the persistent widow is about a God who has a persistence of vision and it is through prayer that we learn to align ourselves with that vision. The widow represented the most vulnerable in ancient Israel. She should have been cared for in a society modelled upon God’s justice, mercy and compassion. Yet, the behaviour of the judge shows that many times this was not the case. Widows and other powerless people were often neglected and mistreated by the powerful. By shifting the power to the woman, Jesus turns the social systems of power upside down. He reminds us that we are the ones with power if we persist. Our persistence in prayer and following the way of the Kingdom has the potential to transform those power dynamics and shift them to the ways of justice, mercy and love.

What Jesus teaches us today is that God does not give up on us. This is not just about being optimistic and cheerful in the face of calamity. It is about a deep and abiding hope that comes from the knowledge that God is steadfast in love and that this love never fails us. When we fail, we are still children of God. When our world fails, it is still God’s beloved creation that is being redeemed. Our hope is not attached to results and successes. It is rooted in the life, suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus. This paschal pattern challenges us to embrace vulnerability not invincibility, knowing that God brings life out of death. Prayer, then, is not to manipulate God into doing us more favours. It is to change us into a better image and instrument of God.

Sisters and brothers,

As we are caught up in the pressures, demands and diversions of our own lives, let us not lose sight of the big picture, the grand vision that God has for us and for the world. Let us not give up our task of nurturing and advancing that vision for lack of result we desire. Let us pray and live like Oscar Romero who modelled for us a vulnerable and courageous discipleship: “We may never see the end result, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker. We are workers, not master builders, ministers not messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own.”

 

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