Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily for the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B 2021
Readings: Joshua 24:1-2,15-18; Ephesians 5:21-32; John 6:60-69
22 August 2021
Choosing integrity and staying the course
Dear sisters and brothers,
This week, like many of you, I have been profoundly saddened by the dramatic events in Afghanistan. Even in the midst of a pandemic when we had been mostly preoccupied with the effects of the long lockdown, we could not but be moved by the scenes of people fleeing the advance of the Talibans. Watching those images, I felt a sense of déjà vu. Even though it has been decades since the communist takeover of South Vietnam, memories of the war came flooding back. The scenes of people clambering onto planes, some even dangling off the stairs to aircraft in Kabul were eerily similar to what happened in Saigon in April 1975.
I have been plagued with questions about the war on terror, which was the justification for the military invasion and occupation of Afghanistan by the Western Coalition. I struggle with our nation’s involvement in it. Above all, I feel a civic and religious duty to do the right thing. I believe that people of faith, and Australians more broadly, must stand up for social and moral issues, because this is the only way that we can build the world we want to see in the future. This is a pivotal moment for us to step up and support those in need in Afghanistan as their country descends into chaos, violence and turmoil.
Scripture this Sunday speaks about moral integrity and courage to choose and to persevere in the road of righteousness in the face of pressure.
The first reading tells us the story of God’s chosen people making a choice between the God of their ancestors and the gods of more powerful nations around them. Joshua brings all the tribes of Israel to Shechem where Abraham made the covenant with God earlier. There, he challenges the people to choose loyalty and integrity over against other pathways available to them.
At the core of this God decision is a recognition that they are guided by value system that is distinctive in its relational character. Choosing to serve the God who delivered them from bondage, oppression and human indignity has real implications to the way they treat others. It means they have to give an account to God when they oppress the stranger, ignore the widow and mistreat the orphan. The God decision goes hand in hand with the neighbour decision. The God of love and freedom expects them to be champions of love and freedom.
The Gospel also speaks metaphorically of the fork in the road towards Jerusalem. Jesus’ disciples must decide to abide by his unpopular message or to choose another way. It was Peter who spoke words of loyalty and trust. “To whom Lord can we go? You have the words of everlasting life”. Thus, Peter represents those who remain committed despite the pressure to go with the flow. It takes faith and courage to persevere when others have abandoned the journey. This is very much the test of faith personally when we face adversity and collectively when society is sceptical and even hostile towards our value system.
A choice for God is a choice for moral integrity and righteousness. Even in the time of Joshua, this choice meant fidelity to the covenant. It meant, in the words of the prophet Micah, to act justly, to love tenderly and to walk humbly with God. For the disciples, it meant doing what Jesus did and living as Jesus lived. It meant turning the other cheek, walking the extra mile, losing our lives in order to gain them. It means trusting that the first will be last and the last first. It means seeking God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness. In essence, a choice for God in Christ means a costly discipleship.
Dear brothers and sisters,
The Word of God today challenges us to be people whose integrity shines out in the face of popular pressure to the contrary. It makes a case for authentic discipleship that is rooted in love, fidelity and commitment. Instead of going with the flow, we are challenged to discern and make hard choices that will manifest our belief and value system.
In the world in which people prioritise personal wellbeing, security and wealth over the care of the vulnerable, we are called to negotiate the hard road of what Pope Francis calls human fraternity, compassion and communion. Those hard choices often go against the popular culture as well as the grain of our very human nature.
Like the Israelites, we renew our God decision to serve him in our neighbour. Like Peter, we also reiterate our commitment to follow the way of Christ. May we be strengthened to honour our God decision and our commitment. May we even in the face of apathy and self-preoccupation live out the implications of our hard choices, so that the God of human dignity, freedom and justice may prevail in our world.