Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Mass for the Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Year C 2022 and the Ordination to the Diaconate of Jack Elkazzi at St Bernadette’s Parish, Castle Hill.
Readings: Genesis 18:20-32; Colossians 2:12-14; Luke 11:1-13
Sowing the seeds even if harvest is not within our horizons.
Advocating for the rights of the minority in our community can be fraught with opposition. One of the great achievements of the Plenary Council was its engagement with our indigenous heritage. We called for a First Nations voice to Parliament to be enshrined in Australia’s constitution. Yet as we honoured the ancient aboriginal ceremonies in the Assembly Hall, we also met with charges of idolatry from certain quarters. Our journey to higher level of universal kinship, reconciliation and communion is riddled with challenges. There is no sidestepping of these challenges, however, in order to give witness to what we believe.
Today’s scriptures call us to follow a pathway that is oriented to the Kingdom in spite of all things to the contrary. The task of nurturing God’s vision for us and for the world is a long Game of Thrones –to use a popular analogy. As St Paul says, we must fight the good fight, even if we ourselves may not be able to see the reality of what we hope for. We must plant and water the seeds of the Kingdom even if harvest is not within our horizons.
This was what Abraham did as recounted by the book of Genesis. He and his wife Sarah left their secure and comfortable home in order to go to the Promise Land into which they never actually set foot. But they remained committed to the vision that God had revealed to them. In today’s episode, Abraham was frustrated by the lack of good people for whom he could prevent the destruction of their city Sodom. Strange as it sounds to us, Abraham bargained with God. He kept haggling and badgering for a lower number, just as some might barter for a lower price at the open market.
What emerges, though, is the realisation that God’s plan survives human sinfulness. The sin in question here is not so much sexual as the failure to care for the strangers. The people of Sodom were punished for inflicting violence on the vulnerable aliens in their midst. Abraham and his nomadic clan learned to be an alternative community of hospitality, generosity and service to outsiders as shown in last week’s episode. Even in primordial stage of human history, they learned to counteract the culture of fear and hostility around them. They distinguished themselves as believers in the way they cared for others.
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 friend is about a God who has a persistence of vision and it is through prayer that we learn to align ourselves with that vision. Prayer is the core activity by which we are nourished in hope, by which we keep the focus on God’s justice and by which we stay the course. To ‘pray always’ means to hope always for justice, to nag always the judge, to trust always in the power of God. Today’s parable finds echo in the parable of the widow who nags the corrupt judge until she gets justice. It also resonates with the story of Jesus who was nagged and ultimately persuaded by the Canaanite woman.
As baptised people, we cannot give up too easily the quest for justice, dignity and integrity for all. We cannot lose sight of God’s vision for the world. We see the still pictures, the individual scenes that make up our lives. God sees the whole mosaic picture while we see only the individual tiles. Consequently, we should ask God to help us see the big picture, too, and to make its fulfilment our ultimate objective.
Brothers and sisters,
This evening, we rejoice in the diaconal ordination of Jack Elkazzi. Like Abraham, Jack left his home of security and familiarity in order to pursue a greater ideal, which is God’s vision for the whole world. Jack has not had to escape the burning of places. Castle Hill has not turned into Sodom. On the contrary, it has been a formative community, which in addition to the Holy Spirit Seminary, shapes Jack into the worker in God’s vineyard and an agent of the Kingdom. I acknowledge those involved in Jack’s formation. In a special way, I acknowledge the solid foundation for Jack’s life of faith, discipleship and service laid by his own family, particularly his parents George and Teresa.
Today’s liturgy reminds us that nothing in this world, not even human frailty and sinfulness, can derail God’s plan. On the other hand, it also calls us to be participants of that plan. We are privileged to embody and enact the vision that God has for humanity and all of his creation. We should not be deterred by the lack of apparent success. Like Jesus, who was vindicated and gloried to be the hope of the world redeemed, we must persist in our being the agents of the Good News. We must never shirk from our call to be the visible sacrament of God’s love even in the midst of diminishment, uncertainty and despair. May we persevere on our pilgrimage of faith and work towards the reality we hope for.