Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily for the 4th Sunday of Lent Year A 2020
Readings: 1Sam 16:1-13; Eph 5:8-14; John 9:1-41
22 March 2020
Breaking down barriers and standing with the dispensable
What a chaotic week it has been for us, not only here in Australia but all over the world. The coronavirus crisis has struck fear into the hearts of people and caused selfish human behaviour in supermarkets, on public transport system and other places. In this atmosphere of hysteria and the survival of the fittest syndrome, spare a thought for the elderly, the sick, the disabled and other vulnerable members of our society. They are the ones who bear the brunt of the crisis.
The Word of God this Fourth Sunday in Lent speaks of the God of deep empathy and solidarity. He does not look, judge and behave the way we human beings are inclined to do by our worst nature. On the contrary, we come face-to-face with not only a benevolent God, but also one who is drawn to the lowly and the marginalised. In Jesus, this God breaks through human barriers of gender, ethnicity, social status, disability et cetera to embrace everyone and to especially stand with those considered “dispensable”.
In the first reading, the prophet Samuel was sent to the house of Jesse in Bethlehem, in order to anoint the future king of Israel. Samuel was a great prophet, but like many of us, he had a few blind spots. In the course of examining the candidates, he showed his bias by favouring the first born, the strong, the good-looking et cetera. In the end, God chose the youngest and the one still minding the sheep in the field. Samuel was taught a sobering lesson that day: “God does not see as man sees. Man looks at appearances but God looks at the heart”.
This was the way Jesus interacted with the blind beggar. He treated him with compassion, respect and dignity. The Pharisees on the other hand showed an attitude of ignorance and prejudice. First, they judged him a sinner on account of his disability; then they rejected his testimony because of his unworthiness, and finally they expelled him for his faith in Jesus. We can detect a sense of irony in all of this. It was the fully-sighted people who were blind with ignorance, prejudice and hard-heartedness. The blind beggar was receptive to Jesus.
The coronavirus crisis strikes fear and anxiety into people across the globe. It also reveals deep cultural prejudices and divisions against the elderly, the weak and even those of certain race and ethnicity. Our faith makes us step beyond these human boundaries. It expands our horizons and pushes the limits of our love. Today’s Gospel challenges the binary system of “blind” versus “sighted,” of “disabled” versus “normal”. It reaffirms that we are all God’s children, called to live discipleship and to make a rich tapestry of human diversity. Through the example of Jesus, we are called to embrace those considered dispensable in our society and reach out to them. It is not the time to look after ourselves but to care for others, through our prayers, acts of kindness and deep communion with them.
In a climate of fear, we tend to look inwards and neglect the needs of the most vulnerable. God calls us to a different way: working together, needing each other, being the body of Christ. Like the blind man, may we be healed and made whole from the darkness of our fears and insecurities. May we be gifted with the new vision of faith that enables us to see and act according to the values of the Gospel. Let us pray that Christ open our eyes so we may see like Him; our ears that we may hear like Him and our hearts so we may love like Him.
Prayer in time of the pandemic
By Cameron Bellm
May we who are merely inconvenienced
remember those whose lives are at stake.
May we who have no risk factors
remember those most vulnerable.
May we who have the luxury of working from home
remember those who must choose between preserving their health or making their rent.
May we who have the flexibility to care for our children when their schools close
remember those who have no options.
May we who have to cancel our trips
remember those that have no safe place to go.
May we who are losing our margin money in the tumult of the economic market
remember those who have no margin at all.
May we who settle in for a quarantine at home
remember those who have no home.
As fear grips our country,
let us choose love.
During this time when we cannot physically wrap our arms around each other,
Let us yet find ways to be the loving embrace of God to our neighbours.