Homily during Migrant and Refugee Sunday, St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta, 28 August, 2016
Some years ago, there was a craze that swept through the pop culture world like a storm, just like the game Pokemon Go today. It was known as the Gangnam style dance. It is remembered as a kind of light-hearted, at times silly music video of an Asian guy who clowned around at bus stops, subway stations, playgrounds and even garages. What few of us realise is that Gangnam style has a subliminal message, a satirical commentary on the class and wealth of the Korean society.
Gangnam is not the name of an Asian triad but an equivalent of Point Piper in Sydney. It is where the rich and famous live. It is also where those aspiring to climb the social ladder spend even beyond their means just to look good. Hence, Psy – short for psycho – wanted to say how hollow and ridiculous it is to pursue prosperity and status. The whole video is about him thinking he’s a hotshot but then realising he’s just, you know, at a children’s playground, or thinking he’s playing polo or something and realises he’s on a merry-go-round.
Jesus might or might not try a Gangnam style dance if he were a youngster living in the 21st century. But he certainly had a penchant for subversive messages that even today challenge us to examine what we think, how we live and relate to the world and people around us. Only a few weeks ago, we heard the Parable of the Good Samaritan in which he upset the social order based on status, rank and racial boundary. The one presumed or prejudged by society to be the bad guy because of his race and religion turned out to be the good guy. The priest and the Levite, respected for being the custodians of tradition fell out of God’s favour for they lacked the humanity that the Samaritan had in abundance. In Western Sydney, we might call it “the Parable of the Good Muslim refugee”.
The Gospel this Sunday is no less subversive. Like the satirical Gangnam dance, Jesus told the story of people who aspire to climb the social ladder. The wedding guests seek the places of honour in order to reassert their status in society. The more successful and respected one is, the higher he or she is recognised in the pecking order. Jesus proposes a completely different relational model, one not based on power and status but on humility and service, not on rights and entitlements but on gratuity and goodness. “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the person who humbles himself will be exalted.” He goes on to challenge his followers to abandon the relational model of the world and adopt that of the Kingdom. The former has to do with competition, self-entitlement and self-centred behaviour whereas the latter has to do with love, generosity, service towards others.
Jesus’ model seems rather unrealistic and indeed unusual. He would pay the 11th hour worker the same wages as the guy who has done more hours. He would invite the poor, the crippled, the lame to a party rather than those who could return him the same favour. It does not make sense even to our “fair go” mentality. Yet, when understood in the context of God’s vision for inclusion and human flourishing, Jesus’ teaching challenges us to go beyond the simple ethics of fairness and to treat the despised with respect and human dignity. This is what underlies Pope Francis’ encyclical “Laudato Si”. He appeals for a person-based economy over against the prevalent model of a trickle down economy. Human dignity is the overarching concern, not profit and prosperity of a few. The poor and marginalised, the natural and human environments must never be forgotten.
Today is also Migrant and Refugee Sunday. In this Jubilee of Mercy, Pope Francis calls on us to see these marginalised persons as our brothers and sisters. The Gospel of Mercy troubles our consciences. It compels us to act in favour of their human dignity rather than our harsh calculus of what is ours versus what is theirs. The parable today is a powerful reminder to us of our collective and personal responsibility to work for the poor, the marginalised, the rejected, the unwelcomed in our midst. As a rich and prosperous nation, we have been given much and much should we expect of ourselves in terms of our compassion, generosity and commitment to share with others. At the very least, we must say no to cruelty and heartlessness that is not characteristic of Australia and Australians, let alone as Australian Catholics. Let us work together with people of goodwill to alleviate the sufferings of others, especially the asylum seekers in Manus Island and Nauru by way of a more humane solution.
We stand united with one another, with men and women of good will in working for the coming of the Kingdom. We stand united with Pope Francis who has given us a strong leadership on the care of asylum seekers and refugees. His words and gestures in particular inspire us to speak and act in favour of God’s poor for whose cause we will be judged. “As you did it to the least of these, you did it unto me” (Matthew 25:40). These words of Jesus teach us to see the face of the Incarnate God in our asylum seeking brothers and sisters. It is our duty, as Pope Francis says, to replace indifference with compassion, ignorance with respect and suspicion with love.
Our Catholic faith commits us to build a new society and a new world according to the Kingdom vision of Jesus. With the men and women of goodwill, let us build a better Australia and a better world with the values of the Gospel. May our endeavour to replace the culture of fear and indifference with that of encounter and acceptance be brought to fulfillment in accordance with God’s vision of the fullness of life for all humanity.
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