Homily for Pontifical Mass of the 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A 2017 at St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta, 22 January 2017
Sisters and brothers,
Yesterday, the new American president was sworn in amid much pomp and ceremony. Pope Francis sent him a short letter of congratulations along with a telling message, which I am not sure, is appreciated by the President. I quote: “Under your leadership, may America’s stature continue to be measured above all by its concern for the poor, the outcast and those in need who, like Lazarus, stand before our door”. The reference to Lazarus is particularly poignant in the context of fear and suspicion of outsiders. Unlike my installation ceremony, the Holy Father’s message was not read out at President Trump’s inauguration. One can surmise that perhaps the two leaders are guided by different visions.
Scriptures on this third Sunday in Ordinary Time also speak of new beginnings and of the God who 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, especially the most needy and defenseless.
In the first reading, we hear a hopeful message from the prophet Isaiah who ministered during a very tumultuous time in Israel’s history. The golden era of David and Solomon was over. Israel became a house divided and a pawn for much more powerful kingdoms such as Babylon, Egypt and Persia. They experienced shocking violence, war, invasion and occupation. Their faith was tested to the extreme limits. Yet in the midst of this prolonged despair, the prophet instilled them with a message of hope. “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness – on them a light has shone.” This was no pie in the sky stuff. This was the perennial call to faith because evil and injustice do not have the last word. The faithful remnants are those who’ve been enlightened and as such live in the light of faith.
In the Gospel story, we see the fulfilment of Isaiah’s prophecy through the actions of Jesus. It tells us of how he goes about proclaiming the reign of the kingdom and acting in favour of that kingdom despite the rampant and overwhelming presence of evil. John’s arrest should have served as a warning to him. Yet instead, it was a catalyst for Jesus’ full immersion into a life of service and witness. It marked a break with the past and a launch into deeper waters of the future. He went to those places that Isaiah foretold and fulfilled the prophecy concerning the hopes of the oppressed people. Jesus refused to sit back and allow sin, evil, injustice, oppression to crush humanity. He proclaimed and acted in favour of the kingdom of peace, justice, dignity, freedom and liberation.
Sisters and brothers,
We live in a time, which in many ways is not unlike that of God’s people in exile. The rise of anti-immigration abroad and at home, the mistrust of government institutions, of global economy or even of religious organisations et cetera are indicative of the sense of fear which is as powerful today as it was for the Israelites living without visible identity symbols and structures. But whereas others offer to us the solution in the politics of protectionism, in the Gospel of prosperity, in self-entitlement and narcissism, Jesus provides us with the alternative vision. That vision is inclusive, altruistic, self-effacing and other-empowering.
Beginning his ministry from Galilee of the nations, Jesus draws us beyond the world of our own: our own familiarity, security, culture, language and customs. It is interesting to know that the archaeological discoveries in the Galilee show a high level of tolerance for other cultures. In choosing to minister and call his first disciples in the melting pot of Galilee, Jesus shows himself a man for others and a boundary-breaking rabbi quite unlike his contemporaries. Galilee of the nations is indicative of his radical, inclusive, “sans frontier” kind of love, acceptance, embrace, affirmation, compassion, forgiveness and solidarity, especially towards the most vulnerable and marginalised.
In Jesus we meet up with a God who awakens our responsibility to not ignore everyone else. In him, we meet up with a God who frequently asks us what we are doing for the least of his brothers and sisters. We might not be able to do great things, but we know that we need to be a part of a life that has more dignity and happiness for all. This God makes us live with more clarity and dignity. This is a God who helps us to suspect that evil, violence and hatred like what happened in Melbourne don’t have the last word. In the power of his life, death and resurrection, we partake of God’s love which is stronger than death.
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light”. We are the people who have seen the great light of Christ; who have experienced his love and who have been called to share his light and love. In a world of changing values and a crisis of trust, we must adhere to the constant message of faith, hope and love for all; we must continue – as Pope Francis maintains – to be a church where everyone can feel welcomed, loved, forgiven and encouraged to live according to the Gospel. And as long as we embody that vision of church in our practice, we become a lighthouse for the world. We pray for the strength and courage to live by the demands of God’s radical and inclusive love, “lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power”.
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