Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Mass for the Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Year C 2022 at St Paul the Apostle Parish, Winston Hills.
Readings: 1 Kings 19:16, 19-21; Psalm 15 (16):1-2, 5, 7-11; Galatians 5:1, 13-18; Luke 9:51-62
Take the leap of faith as we are captivated by Jesus’ kingdom vision
Dear sisters and brothers,
Not long after his election, Pope Francis blessed a rather unusual sculpture called the “Homeless Jesus”. It depicts a figure of a man sleeping on a park bench with his bare feet, wounded from his crucifixion, poking out from under a blanket. This sculpture is now a permanent feature at St Peter’s Square. It serves as a backdrop to the annual Street Feast during which the Pope highlights the Church’s unwavering solidarity and service to the poorest of the poor. There are a few other places around the world where these statues have been installed.
Such a depiction has not been welcomed by everyone, though. Some feel that it is a blasphemy to present Jesus in such an irreverent manner. Others even object that a statue of a homeless person in a prominent place is bad for the town’s image. We should not be surprised by the mixed reactions. After all, Jesus was and continues to be a disrupter. He challenges the societal sense of what is acceptable, normative and honourable. Even more so, he challenges us his followers as to what discipleship really means for us.
The Word of God on this 13th Sunday speaks about the hard choices involved in the journey of faith. The first reading tells the story of the call of Elisha. He was ploughing the field when Elijah came to anoint him as his successor. Aware that he would leave his home and family for good, Elisha asked to bid farewell to his parents. But then prompted by Elijah, he made a radical break with his past there and then. He slaughtered the oxen, shared a meal with his servants and turned over a new page of his life.
The Book of the Kings describes Elisha as wrapping his master’s prophetic mantle around himself, opening his future to the leading of God’s Spirit, and never looking back! Soon, he would be blown by the wind into places he never thought to go, to enact things he had never thought to do. It was his leap of faith, and courage to trust in the unfolding of God’s plan for him that we must do well to imitate.
In the Gospel, Jesus clearly stresses that Christian discipleship is never for the faint-hearted. Just as he resolutely took the road for Jerusalem, his followers too must have the total commitment to the cross which comes to us in many forms.
In the first instance, Jesus taught us not to retaliate but to accept rejection graciously. Benevolence and magnanimity are our weapons against hostility and persecution. This is a particularly hard choice when the weapons of confrontation and aggression are more popular.
Next, Jesus taught us that we should be under no illusions about the cost of being his follower. “Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” It is not only a reference to his death on the cross but also a reminder of his being one with the lowly and despised of this world. To follow this homeless man, then, is to find a true home for all even at the expense of our own comfort.
For the rest of his demands, they seem harsh, unyielding and even unreasonable. Demands like “Leave the dead to bury their dead!” or “No one who looks back is fit for the kingdom!”. However, these are not so much literal injunctions as ways of emphasising the importance of the undivided loyalty and single-mindedness with which the disciples are to prosecute the cause of the kingdom. Christian discipleship ultimately takes us to Jerusalem with the Suffering Servant of God. Therefore, nothing short of a total dedication will see us through.
Jesus is presented not as ‘Mr Nice Guy’ but as a quintessential disrupter. He comforts the afflicted but afflicts the comfortable. The litmus test of Christian discipleship is the willingness to bear the cross and to suffer for the sake of the Gospel. This fidelity would be preferred to even family ties. It would cut through biological bloodlines and traditional structures. The disciples must put the cause of the kingdom above other considerations.
Today, in Australia, we may not face a hard choice between our faith and our family or our livelihoods. Nonetheless, Christian discipleship demands our moral courage, integrity and fidelity. St Paul exhorts us not to submit ourselves to the yoke of slavery or self-indulgence. Instead, we are to be guided by the Spirit who forms us into the stature of Christ. It is our free, generous and courageous response to the demands of discipleship that makes us into authentic followers. Let us take the leap of faith as we are captivated by the kingdom vision of Jesus. May Paul’s words encourage us to live God’s plan with passion. “I count everything as loss before the surpassing worth of knowing Christ and … being found in him.” Amen.