Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily for the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A 2020 at Our Lady of the Rosary Parish, Kellyville
Readings: Ez 18:25-28; Phil 2:1-11; Matthew 21:28-32
27 September 2020
No one is beyond God’s all-embracing love
Jesus would not have been Mr Popularity. In fact, he seemed to run into conflict regularly with the leaders of his time. His words and actions often challenged the social norms, attitudes, and even prejudices that they reinforced. In last Sunday’s parable of the workers in the vineyard, we already witnessed one of these disputes. There, Jesus critiques the culture of entitlements and privileges that favours the upwardly mobile. The owner of the vineyard does not use the point system. He does not pay the workers on the basis of their merit. Instead, he applies a familial model of generosity, equity, and inclusion from which even the last comer or – to use a contemporary language – the ‘queue jumper’ benefits.
In today’s parable, Jesus continues to portray a God who is interested in reaching out to those on the margins and making outsiders insiders. He concludes the story with a shocking statement: “I tell you truly, tax collectors and prostitutes are making their way into the kingdom of God before you.”
In a culture of honour and shame, tax collectors and prostitutes carry the worst possible social stigma. By crafting the parable in their favour, Jesus reverses the table. The lowly and despised who avail themselves of God’s mercy are reckoned righteous. The privileged who see no need of repentance are condemned for their arrogance. In God’s Kingdom, the outsiders can really become insiders, and the insiders can become outsiders. There is no one who we can write-off as being too far outside God’s reach.
The Word of God today invites us to be open to God’s offer of mercy. Wherever we are in our journey of faith and life, whether we are like the first or the second son, God joins us and accompanies us to greater transformation.
In the first reading, Ezekiel speaks of the kind of God we encounter in the person and teaching of Christ – one who forgives freely, welcomes unconditionally, and loves without limits. Ezekiel’s teaching is affirmed time and again throughout the Gospel. God is the God of compassion rather than judgment. This is the same God who embraces the prodigal son, who surprises the eleventh hour worker, and who lavishes love on tax collectors and sinners.
Jesus’ critique is not limited to individuals. We must be humble enough to examine whether our faith community has a kind of a ‘second son’ culture, that is, we display symptoms of a judgemental, closed, and insular community. Pope Francis is fond of saying that the Church is not a museum for saints or an enclosure for the virtuous. It is more like a field hospital, which heals the wounded, strengthens the weak, and lifts up the lowly. It is a place where everyone can feel welcomed, loved, forgiven, and encouraged to live according to the Gospel.
Let us endeavor to live the radical grace of God that turns outsiders into insiders. As we recognise our own need of repentance and conversion, let us be the Church that reaches out to embrace, accompany, encourage, and engage with people’s struggles, wounds, and failings, rather than one that isolates and condemns them.
Today is also Migrants and Refugees Sunday. Pope Francis makes a passionate appeal for solidarity with those whom he recalls are forced to flee like Jesus. Against the tide of anti-refugee sentiments across the world, particularly during the pandemic, the Holy Father says that it is not a time of forgetfulness. Rather, he continues, “it is a time to recognise Jesus in those faces, we will be the ones to thank him for having been able to meet, love and serve him in them.”
The Gospel today challenges us to be a model community of mercy, inclusion, and brotherhood. Like the early Christians, we must show ourselves to be fundamentally counter-cultural in how we live, how we relate, how we welcome outsiders and make them one with us. Instead of the label of ‘queue jumpers’, we can help the world see them as our fellow travellers.
St Paul gives us a magnificent reflection of the self-emptying of Christ which is a pattern for all of us. It is his downward journey in order to demonstrate God’s radical love that sees him raised as the King of kings and Lord of lords. Let us follow his example in identifying ourselves with the humble, suffering, and crucified Christ in the least of our brothers and sisters. Let us walk together in the journey of hope, faith, and love as we avail ourselves constantly of the depth of God’s forgiving love in Christ.