Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily for the 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time in Year B 2018 with conferral of the Sacrament of Confirmation at St Mary of the Cross MacKillop Parish, Upper Blue Mountains
Readings: Deuteronomy 6:2-6; Hebrews 7:23-28; Mark 12:28-34
4 November 2018
One of the distinguishing features of the Jewish people is the belief that they are God’s chosen people. They believe that God appointed them to be his witnesses so that they can set an example of holiness and ethical behaviour to the world.
The whole thrust of the Hebrew Scripture or the Old Testament as we Christians call it, is directed towards the preservation of their identity as God’s chosen people.
In the midst of imperial domination – from Egypt to Assyria, from Babylon to Rome – they endeavoured to be true to their mission of being a model society distinct from the surrounding culture. Therefore, in contrast to the gods of the empire, who serve the will of the king, the Hebrews worshiped Yahweh, whom they understood to be the advocate of vulnerable and oppressed people.
The Word of God this Sunday speaks to us about the importance of being a community of faith, which is counter-cultural or antithetical to the dominant social system.
God in Christ summons us to live and relate to each other in a way that is different to the kind of ruthless, competitive, inhumane, dog-eat-dog, survival of the fittest economy that we are being seduced into.
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 community of hospitality, compassion and neighbourliness, which is an alternative to the popular system of extraction, self-interest and accumulation.
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 reminded 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.
In effect, they are exhorted not to be a society of enslavement and oppression that they themselves experienced in Egypt. Instead they are to form a society, which would be the model for all the 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. This prayer is a summons to all believers to make God and his concern at the centre of our life and mission.
This is also fundamentally the message of Jesus. In the Gospel reading, he defines that same vision of God’s Kingdom in terms of loving God and neighbour. He gives us a new understanding of the Old Testament teachings – one that is rooted radical love rather than the meticulous observance of the law.
Jesus would later expand the notion of a neighbour to include not only three classic outsiders: the widow, the orphan and the stranger but also anyone who was excluded from total acceptance.
The Samaritan parable would redefine who the neighbour was and challenge Israelites even more deeply in terms of their attitudes, actions and relationships with those outside their circle. Through the parable, Jesus would push the boundaries of their acceptance, inclusion and love to the limits. In identifying himself with the marginalised and outcast, Jesus would challenge them with a radical new way of seeing, acting and relating.
The early Christians understood the significance of being fundamentally counter-cultural in how they lived, how they related, how they shared resources with the disadvantaged. They embraced a life of faith, hope and love in contrast to their pagan counterparts. They reached out to others beyond their borders.
Similarly, we are challenged to be a kinder, more inclusive, more caring alternative society under God’s rule. The Kingdom vision of Jesus guides us as we endeavour to be a community that serves as an antidote to the politics of fear and the economy of exclusion in our society. May we who have been shown immeasurable love in Christ reach out in the spirit of neighbourliness to the unloved, the excluded, the disadvantaged and the dispossessed in order to bring them to the table of the Lord.