Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily for the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time in Year B 2021 at St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta
Readings: Jonah 1:3-10; 1Cor 7:29-31; Mark 1:14-20
24 January 2021
Finding the power to author a new chapter
Dear Sisters and Brothers,
I must confess I was mesmerised by the poem called The Hill We Climb that was delivered at the Inauguration Ceremony in Washington, D.C. last week. The young lady who recited the poem exuded poise, power and purpose. She stood there on the podium, speaking words of wisdom, hope and conviction to a nation battered and weary. The optimism she generated was such a contrast to what had happened there only a couple of weeks earlier. But instead of dwelling on the violence, rancour and division, she appealed to the best nature of all citizens, “to rebuild, reconcile and recover”. Like Martin Luther King who saw the fierce urgency of now, she spoke of the terrifying hour as the launchpad for the nation “to author a new chapter”.
We are at the beginning of a new year and scriptures invite us to read the signs of the times in order to discern God’s will for us and to carry it out faithfully. Today’s scriptural lesson teaches us that chaos, destruction and despair can be profound moments of soul searching, repentance and renewal.
This was what happened to the people of Nineveh. On the surface, it was a great prosperous city, unrivalled in the region. However, beneath the veneer of wealth, power and success, the city had lost its soul. It had drifted away from the values that bound its inhabitants together. Jonah, the reluctant prophet from Israel, was sent to preach to them a message of conversion. To his surprise, not only did they heed the voice from elsewhere, they also made a break with the past. They repented “from the greatest to the least”. They changed their priorities and launched towards a new and more life-sustaining future.
In many ways, we are also at the threshold moment that can either launch us into a hope-filled future or leave us mired in a shrinking whirlpool. The COVID crisis has exposed our common vulnerability. We cannot continue with the status quo when it is at best unsustainable and at worst aiding and abetting systemic injustices. The pandemic has given the lie to a myth of individualism and self-sufficiency that sanctions rampant inequalities. If we are to survive and thrive, we will have to do what the ancient people of Nineveh did which is to change our priorities and embrace the cause of the common good.
Pope Francis just released his reflection on the pandemic called Let Us Dream: The Path to a Better Future. In it, we find echoes of Jonah urging us to strengthen our ties with our Creator, with our fellow human beings and with all creation around us. This is the new organising principle needed to launch the planet towards a new future of shared destiny. Drawing inspiration from the biblical sources, Francis frames the pandemic in terms of its potential for positive change. Just as the great deluge was an opportunity for renewed humanity, the COVID crisis can therefore become our Noah moment. We can find our way to the Ark and to a new future as long as we recognise and foster the ties that bind us and all things together.
In the Gospel, Jesus shows himself as a Messiah who seizes the moment and enacts God’s plan. He goes about proclaiming the reign of the Kingdom and acting in favour of that Kingdom despite the rampant and overwhelming presence of evil. John’s arrest should serve as a warning to him. Yet, instead, it is a catalyst for Jesus’ full immersion into a life of service and witness. It marks a break with the past and a launch into deeper waters of the future. Jesus refuses to sit back and allow sin, evil, injustice, oppression to crush humanity. He proclaims and acts in favour of the kingdom of peace, justice, dignity, freedom and liberation. He calls his disciples to follow him and join him in the proclamation of the Kingdom and transformation of the world.
Sisters and brothers,
Like Jonah and the disciples of Jesus, we have – by virtue of our baptism – embarked upon the journey beyond our limited horizons into God’s unfolding plan for humanity. We are not alone in the crisis. We are united together and we have the power of Christ to transform the world, one that is free from the virus of individualism and marked with a renewed purpose to strengthen the sacred bonds that bind us all together.
May this time of shared suffering help us to be touched by each other’s pain. As Australia Day draws closer, we cannot but acknowledge the hurt and pain inflicted on our Indigenous peoples. May we learn to walk in each other’s shoe and reset our priorities in such a way that we can begin to author a new chapter, full of possibilities and blessings for humanity and all God’s creation.