Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily for the 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B 2021, 31 October 2021
Readings: Deuteronomy 6:2-6; Hebrews 7:23-28; Mark 12:28-34
Compelled by Jesus’ vision of love to enact the culture of life for all
One of the positive effects of this protracted pandemic, I believe, is the knowledge that we are all bound together by our common humanity and vulnerability. Covid has taught us that no one is saved alone, writes Pope Francis in his reflection “Let us dream”. If we are to move forward to a better future, therefore, we cannot leave behind the poor and the dispossessed.
It is with this knowledge which is deeply grounded in our Christian heritage that the Church advocates for the whole spectrum of life. Hence, whether it is vaccine for vulnerable communities, or the planet which is threatened by human exploitation, or the terminally ill who are at risk of being disposed of, we are compelled by the love of God and of neighbour to enact the culture of life for all.
At a time when the global structures are faltering, the world needs more than ever the witness of a Christian community united in its effort to honour the dignity and worth of every human person, to serve the common good and live as one with God’s creation.
The Word of God this Sunday speaks to us about the importance of being such a community. God in Christ summons us to live and relate to all things around us in a way that reflects the divine communion of life and love. We are called to practice an ethic of concern, care, support for one another so no one is excluded from the table or left behind; we are challenged to be a collective witness to neighbourly justice, hospitality and compassion, which is an alternative to the popular system of self-interest, apathy and individualism.
In the first reading, we hear how the children of Israel receive instructions as to how they should live and behave towards each other. After the painful but liberating journey out of Egypt, Moses reminds the Israelites that they must be true to the God of freedom and liberation. The whole purpose of the Exodus is to be free from slavery and oppression. It is to be able to live as God’s people.
Moses solemnly exhorts the people “keep all the laws and commandments” as they are about to abandon the nomadic way of life and settle in the promise land. They are to set themselves apart from the other nations. This new society would be marked by worship of the God of love, justice and compassion. “Listen, Israel: The Lord our God is the one Lord. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength.” These words of Moses to the people have become the traditional Jewish daily prayer called the Shema. It reinforces their commitment to make God and his concern the centre of their life.
This is also fundamentally the message of Jesus. In the Gospel reading, he summarizes all the laws and commandments into the supreme and overarching command of love. He reiterates the Shema, that is, the command to love God with one’s whole being, but then immediately couples it with the command to love one’s neighbour as oneself. The two are bound together in a way that one gives shape and expression to the other.
Jesus would later go a step further than the Old Testament. He would expand the idea of a neighbour to include not only the comrade member of the covenant community but also those who are considered outsiders. Through the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus would push the boundaries of acceptance, inclusion and love to the limits. In identifying himself with the marginalized and outcast, Jesus would challenge them with a radical new way of seeing, acting and relating. The practice of radical neighbourly justice, mercy and love is the love of God made visible. It is the summation of biblical faith and of the believing community in its witness against the individualism and exclusivism that are often the default characteristics of oppressive societies.
The early Christians understood the significance of being fundamentally counter-cultural in how they lived, how they related, how they shared resources with the defenceless such as the widows, orphans and aliens. They embraced a life of faith, hope and love in contrast to their pagan counterparts. The Church has since understood itself as a visible manifestation of the reign of God.
The kingdom vision of Jesus guides us as we endeavour to be a collective witness against the politics of fear and the economy of exclusion. May we enact this vision individually and as a Body of Christ by lives built on love, pivoted to justice and animated by mercy. Then, we too may hear the words of Jesus to the scribe “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”