Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily for the 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B 2021, 5 September 2021
Readings: Isaiah 35:4-7; James 2:1-5; Mark 7:31-37
5 September 2021
Encountering God at the peripheries of life
The pandemic has caused much pain in the world with no end in sight. We have been told that the only way out of COVID lockdown is when the vaccinated population has reached a magic threshold. Then back in control of our destinies, we may be able go about our business as usual. But the question is whether or not we should treat the pandemic simply as an aberration. If there is a lesson to be learned from this disaster, it must be treated as a wake-up call. If we Christians are to discern the voice of the spirit through the signs of the times, we must be open to conversion.
Pope Francis has given us a prophetic interpretation of the pandemic. He has stated time and again that at the root of the crisis is the virus of individualism and profit-driven mentality. We are infected by this virus to the extent that there is little room for social conscience and the common good. Poverty, inequality, exploitation, degradation et cetera have become the collateral damage of a grab what you can and survival of the fittest society. If we want a different world, not one hell-bent on destruction, we must become a different people. If we want to reverse the trajectory of the social and ecological crisis we need the courage to imagine and to construct a new future that aligns with God’s plan for us all.
The Word of God this Sunday presents a hope-filled messianic vision of the world where God rewrites the rules to favour the weak and the insignificant. It is truly a cultural innovation that challenges the existing model: God envisions a different way of being and relating for His people. Instead of being beholden to the trickle-down or winners take all system, we are called to be an alternative community that welcomes, protects and cares for the most vulnerable.
In the first reading, the prophet Isaiah comforts his people during the long and harrowing exile. Many of them have given up their ancestors’ faith and drifted away. Only a small group remains steadfast and these come to be known as the faithful remnants or the “Anawim”. They are not the former religious or political elites but often the poor, the dispossessed and the disadvantaged. Yet it is the “riff-raff” who are identified metaphorically by Isaiah as the blind, the deaf, the lame and the dumb, are the ones chosen to rebuild Israel. It is the strength of their faith, endurance and steadfastness that makes God’s restorative vision possible. It is no wonder that they are seen as precursors embodying the spirit of the Humble Suffering Servant.
Isaiah’s messianic vision of a caring and viable society for the vulnerable still challenges us today. We have much to learn from our ancestors in faith. We must learn to be once again the Church that embodies God’s compassion, that ministers at the peripheries, that dares to love the unloved and include the excluded. In the words of St James, we must be a community that makes no “distinctions between the classes of people”.
The Gospel teaches us that God has an eye for the outsiders and those who are in any way marginalised by the society. In Jesus, God champions the cause of the down and out: the tax collectors, the blind beggars, the lepers, the foreigners, the widows, the poor et cetera. Their rights become the object of God’s concern and action in the world.
In this Sunday’s episode, Jesus is presented as a boundary breaking figure. His ministry takes him far and wide, well beyond his comfort zone. Yet, it is here in the precarious places and among the marginalised people that Jesus ministers. As he does to the tax collectors and sinners, he engages with the deaf person in a way that makes himself vulnerable. He put his fingers into the person’s ears and touched his tongue with spittle. In Jesus, God comes into direct contact with the thresholds of human vulnerability and insecurity. He transforms them into openings of grace.
Brothers and sisters,
The Kingdom vision of Jesus guides us as we endeavour to embody God’s healing and restoration. We espouse a love that transcends borders and a social friendship that makes God’s plan for the world possible. As Pope Francis says in the season of creation, “The pandemic has highlighted how vulnerable and interconnected everyone is. If we do not take care of one another, starting with the least, with those who are most impacted, including creation, we cannot heal the world.” Let us follow the footsteps of Jesus as we listen and respond to the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.
Today is Father’s Day. We pray for all fathers as they live their vocation to care, protect and provide for those entrusted to them. This includes also the spiritual fathers in our parish communities and those mentoring others. May they make present for us the love of God our Creator for whom we exist and have our being.