Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily for the 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B 2021, 10 October 2021
Readings: Wisdom 7:7-11; Hebrews 4:12-13; Mark 10:17-30
Discipleship is a call to radical solidarity
Sisters and brothers,
Letting go of something we are used to and comfortable with is always difficult. Yet life’s changing circumstances necessitate our ability to adapt and to be resilient. We learn to grow by accepting the pain of letting go and by navigating the unknown horizons ahead of us.
The pandemic has been a big lesson in learning to let go and to adapt. We have had to part with old routines and habits. We have had to learn and live with government health orders for the sake of the common good. Let us hope that even as we begin to enjoy the easing of restrictions, we will not go back to business as usual in terms of the behavioral changes needed for a more sustainable and equitable world. As we go forward, we must learn to let go of the self-centred mode of living and adopt a new model of living in communion with all that is.
Today’s scripture teaches us about what it takes to be the true follower of Jesus. Discipleship is not for the faint-hearted and the fearful. Letting go of security and embracing the risk of uncertainty are very much part and parcel of the journey. To be a disciple is to opt for the off beaten track. It is to choose an alternative mode of thinking and living quite contrary to our default position.
The first reading gives us a reflection on how to live with the wisdom of God as opposed to the conventional wisdom that sees success and power as the ultimate goal in life. Instead of saying, health and wealth are the rewards of faith, the book of Wisdom takes us to a higher level of spiritual maturity. We are told to pursue integrity and righteousness even when we are cornered without a way out. Powerlessness rather than power, defeat rather than victory, shame rather than honour, poverty rather than prosperity are invariably the price we pay for a life of authentic faith.
Unfortunately, this spiritual maturity is not where the rich young man in the Gospel was at. On the face of it, he was a good and honourable man. He ticked all boxes. He kept all the commandments. He did not steal. He did not cheat. He did not lie. He did not harm anyone. He honoured his father and mother. He was a dream child, right? Well, not as far as the Gospel was concerned! When Jesus challenged him to go home and sell his possessions, give the money to the poor and follow him, this young man revealed his true colours. He could not part with his wealth and security. He could not accept the radical demands of discipleship. He walked away sad and disappointed because he was too attached to his status as a man of riches and power.
Jesus felt deeply sorry for him because the young man had missed the opportunity to outgrow himself. He had chosen familiarity and security; he had refused the invitation of Jesus to experience an alternative mode of existence –one that is based on trust and shared life rather than accumulation and personal security.
The Word of God today lays bare the radical demands of Christian discipleship. Jesus makes it clear that following him has less to do with a kind of personal moral perfection. It is more about building a community based right relationships of justice, mercy and compassion.
What Jesus asked of the rich young man was not to alleviate the poor by almsgiving. Rather, it was radical solidarity that he demanded from his followers. Only walking in the shoes of the least and the last, only by sharing God’s resources with them, only by making their concern ours can we transform lives and relationships.
This was what the early Christian community did. They abandoned the default position of self-interest and embraced radical communion. They shared their possessions and made sure that no one was left behind. They formed an intentional community of sharing in common with each other and looking after the most vulnerable. The rich young man completely missed the point by focusing on himself.
During the week, the Church in Australia has assembled and discerned precisely as to how we can model on the early Christian community. In spite of our differences, the Holy Spirit through your prayers guided us and unified us as we reflected on questions of leadership, governance, the role of women, justice for our first nations peoples, for the environment and the missionary call towards the periphery. The process now enters a time of more prayer, reflection, maturation and development at the next assembly.
May the teaching and example of Jesus guide us as we endeavour to build our Church, relationships and communities that mirror the Reign of God. May we learn to grow and become a more effective instrument and a sign of hope for the human family.