Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily for the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time in Year B at St Patrick’s Church, Guildford
27 January 2018
Sisters and brothers,
This long weekend, we celebrate Australia Day and pause to reflect on what this day means to us as Australians. As Christian Australians, we can both celebrate the good things we love about our nation, as well as pause to give recognition to our land’s deeper and even traumatic history. It is time for us to grieve with our indigenous brothers and sisters for what they suffered in the past and continue to suffer today. It is time for us to allow space in our hearts for newcomers to share their stories and to listen to ours. We Christians are challenged to take up the ministry of reconciliation entrusted to us by Christ and work towards a more just society that reflects the Reign of God.
Scriptures on this 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time speak of new beginnings and of the God who heals wounds, engenders hope and awakens confidence in us. They challenge us to move beyond fear, comfort, security and self-entitlement to be a life of faith, hope, love and service.
The reading from Book of Deuteronomy speaks of the impending departure of Moses and the new era of the prophets. It was a transition time that required the people’s attentive hearing and sensibility. Moses assures them that “the Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like myself, from among yourselves, from your own brothers; to him you must listen.” Indeed, the prophetic era that followed the Law and Moses was tumultuous as well as transformative. The Israelites went through harrowing times of settlement, destruction, exile and colonisation. Yet they also experienced profound transformation as a result.
In the Gospel story, we see the fulfilment of Moses’ messianic prophecy through the words and actions of Jesus. It tells us of how he goes about proclaiming the Reign of God and acting with authority reminiscent of Moses. At Capernaum on a Sabbath day, he heals the person possessed by evil spirits. In doing so, Jesus reframes the meaning of Sabbath in the context of liberating and life-affirming intention of God. Just as in the past, the Sabbath was given to free the Israelites from the cycle of endless forced labour and dehumanising exploitation, Jesus now enacts the liberating power of God in his ministry. He is the manifestation of the God of sabbatical rest and freedom, in sharp contrast with the life-denying legalism of the scribes. Later on, this contrast would intensify and Jesus would ask his opponents whether it is lawful to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill. It is still the relevant question for us today as the Church under the leadership of Pope Francis seeks to be a field hospital for the wounded, a refugee for the outcast and an oasis for the weary.
St Mark places this incident in a very prominent position, that is, at the beginning of the Gospel to highlight the reason for the coming of Jesus. In preaching to the people and casting out unclean spirits, Jesus is revealing the liberating or freeing power of his mission. Jesus came to free us on the different levels of our being. He loosens the chains of our servitude, of false ideas, false gods, and dishonest practices. The demonic can refer to any condition that controls our lives, inhibiting our freedom and growth, alienating us from God and one another. Rather than being merely astonished by a magician, a wonder worker, the Gospel invites us to consider how we ourselves need to be set free and participate in the coming of God’s Kingdom among us.
Sisters and brothers,
As his disciples, we are also commissioned to extend the ministry of Jesus and to enhance the lives of others in its totality. Wherever Jesus went, he engaged people and their concerns; he championed their cause; he brought about total healing; he made a difference to their lives and relationships. It was not simply the blind could see, the deaf could hear and the lame could walk. It was also the restoration of dignity to the downtrodden; to the marginalised, inclusion; to the despised, honour; to the excluded, unconditional acceptance; to the sinner, complete forgiveness. In the last analysis, we Christians are judged for our genuine discipleship in terms of whether or not we have done what Jesus commanded us to do. It is on the basis of what you did or did not do to the least of our brothers and sisters.
There is a sense that we, like the Israelites being instructed by Moses, face the end of an era. We are becoming a smaller church in many ways but hopefully a more humble and authentic sacrament of the Kingdom. It is in this graced time, this Kairos moment that we have an opportunity to focus on building the Kingdom in our witness of faith, hope, love, goodness, humility and vulnerability. Numbers are not necessarily the measure of success and diminishment is not necessarily a sign of failure. It is the quality of our relationships and communities that matter. May this fallow time allow us to grow more deeply in our identity and mission as people and communities that reflect the values of the Kingdom. May we follow the example of Jesus in reaching out to our brothers and sisters, healing wounds, engendering hope, restoring justice through a life of faith, love and service.