‘Dear friends’ – Bishop Vincent’s Homily from 9 October 2022

10 October 2022
Bishop Vincent Long OFM Conv, Bishop of Parramatta. Image: Diocese of Parramatta

 

Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta

Homily for the 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C, at Our Lady of the Way Parish, Emu Plains

Readings: 2 Kings 5:14-17; Psalm 97(98):1-4; 2 Timothy 2:8-13; Luke 17:11-19

9 October 2022

 

Modelling the God whose love stretches beyond human limits

 

Dear friends,

Who do we consider to be outsiders? Who truly belongs to our group, community or country and who does not? What are the customs, values and norms must they conform to so that they can be fully accepted? As an immigrant to this country, I feel these questions in my bones. Perhaps for many others too, they are not abstract but existential and emotional questions. I suspect they also have particular importance for people of colour, of racial, religious, ethnic and gender minorities. Australia is a multicultural and pluralistic society. We have made progress in terms of the reconciliation journey with our First Nations people. Yet we do not have to look very far to realise that the legacies of colonialism and racism are still with us in so many ways.

Scripture today speaks to us about the God who challenges us to broaden our minds, widen our horizons, enlarge our hearts and stretch our capacity to love. It addresses the question of outsiders and how they should be treated. It subverts 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 meet a quintessential outsider as far as ancient Israel was concerned. Naaman was not only a foreigner but also a leper. As such, he was considered less than a Jew. Yet, his faith manifested through his obedience to immerse himself in the muddy pool rendered him a believer.

What is revolutionary about the story is the fact that he was a non-Jew and that God’s love was stretched to reach a physically and ritually unclean person. We are reminded of the story of Jonah and his reluctance to go and preach forgiveness to the pagans of Niniveh. Even in primitive times, God’s people were called to stretch their capacity to love. The story of Naaman is one of the breakthrough moments in the Old Testament. It reveals a God who as Mary sings lifts up the lowly and scatters the proud-hearted.

Meanwhile, the Gospel makes it even clearer that God sees beyond appearances. We are told that Jesus met and healed ten lepers along the border between Samaria and Galilee. They had been isolated, ostracised and condemned to a life at the margins of society. Jesus was an expert at meeting people in that precarious space, which is why the Gospel is at pains to point out the location of their encounter. He identified himself with the marginalised by going to the periphery. He walked the dangerous walk with people who were kept at a distance from the powerful and the privileged.

The lepers were told to go to the priests so that they could be readmitted into the community. Even though he had performed the healing outside the temple system, Jesus did not stop at the personal level. As he did to the woman who had touched him and found herself healed of her haemorrhage, Jesus was interested in confronting injustices towards the vulnerable. By commanding them to go to the temple, he challenges the community to examine its attitudes and practices in respect of the marginalised and the outcast. Thus, the healing of the individuals is incomplete without the healing of the society.

Now, one thing that makes this story unusual is that these lepers are travelling with a Samaritan. He is physically as well as spiritually unacceptable –a total outcast. Yet, it is he who showed an extraordinary depth of faith and gratitude. This encounter would have set the scene for Jesus’ parable of The Good Samaritan. It was the story of the unlikely hero: the outsider became the insider, the outcast became God’s favoured, the last, first. Jesus, in turn, challenges us to expand our limited horizons, to find goodness, blessings and opportunities disguised in the harsh realities of life, to discover beauty, love and dignity in the unlikely people and situations we face.

Dear brothers and sisters,

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.

Let us learn from Christ who immersed himself totally in the coalface realities of pain, suffering, isolation and condemnation that many experience. It is that precarious existence where the true cost of our discipleship is counted, because we dare to walk with the lepers of our time, just like Jesus did before us. Ultimately, we are challenged to prod at our own sense of security and to stretch our capacity to love. For that is where the God of solidarity calls us to be. May we learn to walk with the God of love, inclusion and compassion, as we endeavour not to earn as much as to make His kingdom a reality in the world.

 

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