Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Sixth Sunday of Easter
Readings: Acts 15:1-2; Apocalypse 21:10-14; John 14:23-29
Envisioning the kingdom of truth, justice, equality and integrity
Dear brothers and sisters,
This weekend, after a rigorous and rancorous election campaign, Australians cast their votes to decide the country’s next government. We believers are called more than ever to discern and act with wisdom, integrity and truth.
By any measure, we are considered a prosperous nation with a rule of law. But we cannot remain content with the status quo, especially when that status quo still falls short of a vision of a more inclusive, caring and egalitarian society. As Christians, we cannot ignore the needs of the poor, the aged, people with disability, the homeless, the indigenous people, the asylum seekers and now thanks to Pope Francis’ awareness raising, the fragile environment. We are challenged to imbue the Gospel values into the very fabric of our society in order to transform it into a mirror of God’s Kingdom.
The Word of God this Sunday motivates us to build a society that reflects the divine dream of a new heaven and new earth. In Jesus, God is identified with the vulnerable, the afflicted, and the disadvantaged. Australia is a very lucky country. That makes us feel good. But equally, it should also spur us on to work and bridge the chasm between the rich and the poor, both within and outside our borders. Success and prosperity can insulate us and make us indifferent to the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.
The Acts of the Apostles has been telling us the story of the fledgling Christian community. It has been a story of unity, cohesion and solidarity even in the face of external pressure and persecution. But as this tightly knitted group began to expand, they came face to face with an identity crisis that threatened to break them apart.
In this Sunday’s episode, we have a sense of the seriousness of this crisis and the politics of the early Church. On the one hand, there were those who wanted to protect the traditions concerning what it meant to be a believer. To them, the law of food and circumcision was fundamental to being in covenant with God. They had the majority on their side since the movement was still predominantly Jewish. Being chosen was inextricably linked to being a Jew.
Then on the other hand, there were others led by Paul who pushed the boundaries of Christianity. They challenged their fellow believers to a new understanding of what it meant to be in covenant with God. In the end, it was the collective and purposeful discernment through the Council of Jerusalem that catalysed the Church into a new era. The Christian movement would have been an irrelevant Jewish sect if it had responded to changes with fear and timidity.
In the Gospel, Jesus speaks to the disciples in anticipation of his departure. He reassures them that this should not be cause for anxiety. Instead, they should be glad because the Father will send the Advocate, the Holy Spirit to guide them and lead them into the fullness of life, truth and love.
Jesus calls us as he did his disciples to break loose from our comfort and security, from self-interested and enclosed living to a life open to the kingdom’s vision of integrity, solidarity and justice for all. In him, we meet the God who pushes the boundaries of acceptance and love. In him, we are challenged to let go of our certitudes, securities, habits, routines and patterns of behavior that are no longer relevant and life-affirming. It was this call to deeper truth and justice that guided the early Church to grow beyond its Jewish confines. We must be likewise guided to respond to our own needs and changes today.
Brothers and sisters,
We are inspired by the way the first century Christians applied the teachings and examples of Jesus to their particular context. They responded not by fear and defence of status quo at all costs. Rather, in the face of new challenges, they modelled themselves on the radical inclusiveness, compassion and solidarity of the Master. The Church was transformed beyond the original company that Jesus had gathered and yet this creative process remained faithful to his core values.
Our celebration today calls us to live our faith with creativity, discernment and courage. John dreams of the new Jerusalem after the city has been destroyed by the Romans. We are called to be the new Jerusalem, the Church that shines with the light of hope, humility, mercy and service; the Church that claims no preferential treatment and instead leads humanity towards a vision of the kingdom of truth, justice, equality and integrity. Let us pray that guided by a future to unfold before us, we may not be afraid to embrace the unknown pathways. May God of the journey accompany and form us into his people and his instruments for the transformation of the world.