Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily for the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, Year C, and the Commissioning Mass for Year 12 2023 school leaders and parish youth teams at the Diocesan Local World Youth Day celebrations at St John XXIII Catholic College, Stanhope Gardens
Readings: 2 Samuel 5:1-3; Psalm 121(122):1-5; Colossians 1:12-20; Luke 23:35-43
20 November 2022
Celebrating Jesus’ vision of kinship and life flourishing for all
Dear young friends,
Sometimes, a small act of courage can make a big difference and can even change the course of history. This was true in the case of a woman I deeply admire. No, she is not a celebrity and her name is not Taylor Swift or Britney Spears. Her name is Rosa Parks, a black American woman living in the time of racial segregation. In 1955, on a bus ride home, Rosa was asked to give up her seat to a white passenger. Rosa was tired after a long working day. But she was even more tired of giving in to injustice. She refused to go to the back of the bus where coloured passengers were supposed to be. Though arrested on charges of civil disobedience, Rosa later became an international icon of resistance against social injustice. The world is a better place because of her moral courage.
Life presents us with all sorts of situations where we have to act accordingly. Rosa Parks acted bravely in the face of systemic injustice. But as disciples of Jesus, we are called to witness to the values of the Gospel and bring forth the presence of God’s Kingdom. Today, we mark the completion of our liturgical year with the feast of Christ the King. It points to the direction of salvation history, that is to say, the fulfilment of God’s plan. We are inspired by the kingdom vision of Jesus and strengthened by the hope that it will be realised despite all things to the contrary.
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, the success-driven and winner-take-all culture. It situates our Christian calling in the context of service, empathy and relationship building as opposed to the worldly notion of prestige, power and glory.
In the first reading, we hear the story of the unlikely election of David as the new king of Israel. It took place at Hebron, an insignificant city and an outliner in comparison to Jerusalem. In another episode, David, the smallest, was chosen ahead of his elder stronger brothers. Here, he is seen as the underdog against the mighty Saul. The story puts in bold relief the biblical notion of God favouring the underprivileged and the unworthy. St Paul would say “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; what is weak to shame the strong.” To put it in another way, God reveals through the poor rather than the privileged.
The Gospel story, too, speaks of such a God. We are at the pivotal moment about which Luke adds a unique feature: he describes the conversation of Jesus with the two criminals and the way God’s love breaks through the human barrier. It was a moment of utter hopelessness. As Jesus was dying on the cross, one of the criminals insulted Jesus – “He saved others, let him save himself if he is the Christ of God.” Perhaps this remark simply reflects his and our incomprehension at the God of total powerlessness and vulnerability.
In the midst of despair, pain and loss beyond telling, we witness the triumph of God’s love. The repentant thief recognises the way of the powerless Messiah and entrusts his fate to him – “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom”. Unlike the other, he has come to understand Jesus’ kingdom vision of love in vulnerability. The sinner becomes the unlikely saint. “Indeed I promise you, today, you will be with me in paradise.” The revelation of God’s love breaks through the barrier of human judgement and stereotyping. Just as at the scene of mob justice and hysteria when Jesus was condemned, here the kingdom vision also shines through the darkness of cruelty and injustice.
This evening, we commission Year 12 school leaders and parish youth teams for the task ahead in 2023. You are to enact the kingdom vision of Jesus in your leadership. You are to accompany others on the journey to relational wholeness and transformation. What we need more than ever is the witness of a Christian community united in its effort to honour the dignity and worth of every human person, to serve the common good and live as one with God’s creation. The King to whom we show loyalty is one who chose empowerment rather than power, service rather than self-seeking. With him, there is no path to glory that sidesteps humility, surrender, and sacrificial love; no permission to secure my prosperity at the expense of another’s suffering and no excuse for not telling truth to power.
During these challenging times, let us embody the inclusive kingdom vision of Jesus –one that is rooted in justice, compassion, solidarity and service. Only by living that vision fully as the Body of Christ, can we become a lighthouse for the world. Let us renew our commitment to bring the kingdom vision to birth in our parish community and beyond, confident of its fulfilment in the fullness of time. Let us commit ourselves again to the way of Christ, the humble shepherd King whose love triumphed over the darkness of hate, evil and pessimism.