Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily for the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time in Year B 2018 at Our Lady of the Rosary Parish, Kellyville
30 September 2018
It is not easy for people whom we consider outsiders by virtue of their religion, ethnicity, gender, economic status et cetera to have a fair go in our increasingly competitive society. But every now and again, there is a good news story about them that we can do well to reflect upon.
One such story is the Karen refugees in Bendigo, Victoria. Karens are a persecuted minority like the Rohingyas.
Over 1,000 of them settled in this part of Australia from the border camps between Myanmar and Thailand. A recent study finds that far from taking Aussie jobs and upsetting social cohesion, the refugees are instrumental in stimulating the local economy and breaking down religious tensions. It is an extraordinary success story in one of the country’s least culturally diverse regions.
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 keepers of tradition 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.
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! “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.
Prejudice is so much a part of the human psyche, then and now, in the Church and in the society. Think of our attitude to the Protestants in the pre-Vatican II period. Think of the white settlers’ view of the indigenous people in colonial Australia or Muslem refugees in the post-9/11 world. Like the elders in the time of Moses, we need to hear the voices of prophecy outside the tent of our group. Like the disciples of Jesus, we need to recognise the power of God at work beyond our own circle.
Pope Francis recently 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.
In the light of the Scripture today, we pledge to create an environment where fear of differences is replaced by encouraging all people to share their gifts. The world often makes outsiders into enemies or rivals, but God calls us to greater openness to the surprising ways in which he conveys his presence and power. Let us commit ourselves to walk as pilgrims open to be formed and enriched by the journey. May we in all the upheaval and chaos around us learn to act justly, love tenderly and walk humbly with the God of surprises.