Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily for the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A.
Readings: Zephaniah 2:3, 3:12-13; Psalm 145(146):6-10; 1 Corinthians 1:26-31; Matthew 5:1-12a
29 January 2023
Seeing humanity through the prism of the suffering
Dear sisters and brothers,
Every year, rallies are held across Australia to protest against the appropriateness of Australia Day. This year was no exception. In fact, there were more people joining these rallies amid a rising political and social reckoning with our colonial history. The moment of reflection on our national identity has been particularly acute as we begin the process of referendum that would enshrine an Indigenous Voice to Parliament in the Constitution.
As Christian Australians, we cannot remain indifferent to an issue of such significance. We can both celebrate the good things we love about our nation, as well as recognise the wounds that need to be healed in the land and its people. European settlement changed Australia. But we realise too that the descendants of the early settlers are all the richer and stronger with our First and our new Australians together.
The Word of God this Sunday gives us inspiration and direction as to how we ought to live and relate to the world around us. It challenges us to see our brothers and sisters through the prism of their suffering. It commits us to work for their restorative justice even if we have to suffer for it.
In the first reading, the prophet Zephaniah speaks to the dispossessed in the wake of the imperial occupation and exhorts them to take heart in view of God’s deliverance. Zephaniah reserves the harshest indictment to the powerful elites while he comforts those who suffer for their fidelity to the covenant. He assures the faithful remnants that out of the ruins, God will bring a measure of restoration and renewal. He will use the humble to form a nucleus of the New Israel.
In the Gospel, Jesus also speaks to the crowd who have followed him and witnessed his ministry of healing, mercy and compassion. He puts to them an alternative vision of life, which is polar opposite to what the dominant system has to offer. In God’s eyes, the blessed are not the powerful, the rich and those who have everything at their disposal. Instead, they are the servants of God’s life, love and justice. They are those who suffer for the cause of the Kingdom. They exchange the security of wealth, privilege and status for the insecurity of trust in God, that is, faith without sight, strength without violence and love without counting the cost.
The Beatitudes identify those who God has a special concern for. They are the hungry, the sorrowful and persecuted. Jesus echoes a world turned upside down that Mary sings in the Magnificat: the lowly raised and the mighty cast down, the hungry filled and the rich empty-handed. These are the people God notices and blesses. Jesus invites us to find happiness through a life of witness, service and solidarity with the suffering.
The value system of Jesus upsets and turns upside down the value system of the world. St Paul understood what it meant to have his life turned upside down by living the Beatitudes. He went from being a leading Jew and a Roman citizen to being hated, persecuted and imprisoned for the sake of the Gospel. He became “weak, foolish and contemptible” by human reckoning because he had embraced the value system of Jesus.
Blessedness does not reside in power, possessions, successes or achievements. Rather, it is to be found in a heart open to love, to give, to care, to enhance the lives of others even to the point of dying for the ones we love. Jesus invites us to find this kind of happiness through a life of witness, service and solidarity. That is fundamentally the meaning of the Beatitudes.
Let us be inspired the God’s Word today to work for justice, equity and the common good of our nation. The Catholic Church, at its synodal gathering called the Plenary Council, endorsed the Uluru Statement and the Voice to Parliament as part of our mission to shape a more just and compassionate society. It recognises that we can be a better society by walking alongside with our First Nations people and enabling them to take their rightful place at the table.
We are called to restore what was lost and gather what was scattered. In the world where public responsibility is on the wane and the most privileged desperately work to improve their private estate, we are called to an economy of solidarity, justice and compassion. May the period of collective reflection leading to the referendum move us to heal the wounds of our past, to bring justice our present and prosper our future. May we follow the footsteps of Jesus who proclaimed the Good News of the Kingdom and enact the new paradigm of relational empowerment. May our missionary discipleship help bring about the transformation of our country and our world.