Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily for the 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B 2021
Readings: 1 Kings 17:8-16; Col 3:12-17; Matt 6:25-34
8 August 2021
Living the value system that is counter-intuitive and counter-cultural
Dear sisters and brothers,
We live in a world where greatness is measured in terms success, wealth or power. Thus, a country’s wellbeing is measured by its economic growth; a student’s performance is measured by his/her HSC or ATAR results; the nation’s sporting prowess is measured by its medal tally et cetera.
The Word of God on this Sunday challenges these shallow metrics of greatness. It teaches us that God’s strength is revealed often in gentleness, power in vulnerability and dominion in communion. We are called to adopt the way of God, which is often counter-cultural and counter-intuitive. We are called to live the way of God in the values of love, justice, harmony and abundant life for all.
In the first reading, we heard the story of the prophet Elijah and his transforming experience on Mount Horeb. There, he was shown in a dramatic fashion how God manifested himself not in earthquake, storm and fire but in a gentle breeze. This took place after Elijah had single-handedly killed 450 prophets of Baal.
He learned that the way to fulfill God-given mission was not through the masculine formula of violence, conquest and dominion. This lesson was reinforced by today’s culturally subversive episode of Elijah being saved from starvation by a foreign widow. It was an outsider who modelled divine hospitality, generosity and selflessness. This is not a unrecognisable thread that runs across the biblical texts.
The Gospel also provides another counter-cultural lesson. Jesus teaches his disciples to set their hearts on God’s Kingdom and on its righteousness instead of pursuing wealth, success and prestige. His critique of Solomon is revealing. For Solomon’s success was measured in building the temple, accumulating riches and not to mention having hundreds of wives. Yet, in God’s scheme of things, Solomon in all his regalia was less than a flower in the fields.
Jesus teaches us to set our priorities right. We should be seeking the big stuff instead of the small stuff. At the end of the day, what matters to the people of faith is the living and building of the Kingdom vision of Jesus, which was revealed in His teaching and ministry. It is a vision of a radically different social order based not on privilege, status and power but on justice, equality and inclusion. It is a vision where the values of domination are replaced by stewardship, competition by participation and indifference by empathy.
Today, we honour Australia’s first saint Mary MacKillop, who showed us what a life radically oriented to God’s kingdom looks like. She took a prophetic stance not simply in providing affordable quality Catholic education and health care to the poor masses but fundamentally in meeting the great cultural challenges of their times. “Never see a need without doing something about it”. In acting out of a strong passion for the Kingdom and a visceral compassion for the suffering, she brought about a fresh hope for others.
This week, the bishops of Australia launched the annual social justice statement entitled Cry of the Earth, Cry of the Poor. It invites all of us, individually and collective to put Pope Francis’s encyclical Laudato Si’ into practice, thus transforming our world into the true image of God’s Kingdom.
The pandemic has given the earth an intended consequence, that is a much-needed reprieve and a Sabbatical rest, without which there is no long-term sustainability and fruitfulness. Now is the time for us to learn from our Indigenous wisdom of giving back to the land what it needs for regeneration, instead of endless extraction. Now is the time for us to live as part of the web of life and safeguard its delicate balance, rich diversity and beauty. Cry of the Earth, Cry of the Poor commits us to be the pioneering force in addressing the moral challenge of our time.
Brothers and sisters,
The Word of God calls us to embody the value system that is rooted in the life and ministry of Jesus, one that is radically at odds with our survival instincts and the success-driven and winner takes all culture.
No matter who we are and where we are the the journey, we are united by Kingdom vision of Jesus. Let us put into action a new paradigm of shared humanity, equality, inclusion and human flourishing. May the example of St Mary MacKillop inspire us to embody the Kingdom vision of Jesus and become a lighthouse for the world. In the words of Pope Francis, if we want a different world, we must become a different people. May our effort to change the trajectory of the ecological crisis and align the future of our planet to God’s intention be brought to fruition.