Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily for the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B 2021, 26 September 2021
Readings: Numbers 11:25-28; James 5:1-6; Mark 9:38-48
Growing beyond our narrow tribalism
This weekend, in celebration of Migrant and Refugee Sunday, I took part in an event organised by the Australian Embassy to the Holy See. It consisted of a virtual screening of the film called Rosemary’s Way and a panel discussion on the challenges of being a migrant nation like Australia. The film itself is about a former refugee who crossed the cultural, racial, religious boundaries and became an unlikely source of empowerment for other women like her. Rosemary has the ability to coax people out of their silos. They were drawn by her vibrant personality, genuine friendliness and deep humanity. Rosemary’s Way is a story of transformation, hope and community. It shows the difference Australia can make when we live out our best nature to outsiders.
Rosemary encapsulates the message of Pope Francis. He highlights the importance of seeing outsiders as insiders. In his typical Latin American way, he speaks about widening the “we”. He encourages us to make every effort to break down the walls that separate us and build bridges that foster a culture of encounter. There are no longer others, but only a single “we”, encompassing all of humanity.
This Sunday, the Word of God also addresses the question of outsiders as opposed to those who consider themselves chosen and privileged. It challenges the notion that God only acts within the interest of one’s group at the expense of others. More importantly, it presents us with the inclusive and boundary-breaking way of Jesus.
In the first reading, we hear the unusual story of God acting outside the established boundaries. Eldad and Medad were not inside the tent when the spirit was given to the 70 elders. As such, they were considered rogue prophets and Moses was asked to stop them from prophesying. But not only did Moses let them be, he surprised the gatekeepers with this response: “Are you jealous on my account? If only the whole people of the Lord were prophets, and the Lord gave his Spirit to them all.” In other words, Moses challenged the people not to put God in a box, not to think small, but to allow God to act freely and beyond their narrow circle. This was a giant leap for a small group of Jewish nomads who were fiercely protective of their tribal identity.
We find the echo of this challenge in the Gospel story. The disciples tried to stop someone who was outside their group from healing in the name of their master. They thought they alone had the brand name of Jesus. They thought they alone had a corner on the market. How mistaken they were! How surprised they were to hear Jesus say “Anyone who is not against us is for us.” The disciples received a sobering lesson that with God there are no insiders and outsiders but only the openness that recognises goodness wherever it is found.
Pope Francis caused a stir when he said that there is no such thing as a Catholic God. We must not put a myopic focus and narrow limit on who God is and who are his chosen. The Gospel today is at pains to tell us that whoever does good belongs to God and the greatest enemies are not so much outside as inside us. Hence, we should do well to recognise and deal with the parts of ourselves that cause us to sin, be it the eye, the foot or the hand.
When we survey Jesus’ interactions with the people, those who showed great faith, openness and receptivity to him were not always the standard bearers, not always those who were of his race, religion, or even kindred. Instead we found to our surprise, they were the unlikely characters: the lepers, the beggars, the foreigners, the tax collectors, the prostitutes and sinners.
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.
Guided by the Gospel message of the Kingdom at hand and open to a world of change, we can live up to our prophetic call to be a beacon hope for humanity. We can be an alternative relational paradigm for those on the margins, where the poor and the forgotten can be brought into a new unity; a Church that advocates life at all costs and promotes peaceful life in a war-torn and violent world; a Church that models justice in an age of greed, consumerism and power; a Church centered on the risen Christ, empowering a consciousness of the whole.
Let us pray that like the first Christian community, we may be a place where everyone experiences the divine hospitality, kindness and generosity.