Homily for the 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time in Year A at St Canice’s Church, Katoomba, 10 September 2017
King Henry II of England was frustrated by his conflicts with Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1170. He made a famous cry “Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?” Since then, this phrase has been invoked to express the idea that an individual can be a thorn in the side of his or her more powerful adversary. It was one of the most Googled phrases during the investigation of the Trump administration over its possible links with Russia.
It is never an easy job to be a speaker of inconvenient truths. Yet Scripture today makes this very demand on us as a matter of necessity and as part and parcel of being a believer. So, there is no avoidance of doing one of our most difficult duties, if we are to be faithful to our mission. We are called to be ‘meddlesome priests or prophets’ who live and speak the Word who is the Way, the Truth and the Life for the world.
In the first reading, Ezekiel was called to be a sentry to the House of Israel and to be God’s mouthpiece. He was to watch for danger and sound a warning when it appeared. Ezekiel lived during one of the most tumultuous times in Israel before the exile. The Jewish monarchy had declined and the nation had fractured. The ruling elite had no concern for the poor, but instead manipulated the political chaos to their advantage. It was in this abysmal situation that Ezekiel was commissioned to speak God’s Word. He was not afraid to be the meddlesome prophet who challenged the power that be. His message of conversion to truth, justice and integrity of life was as unpopular then as it is unpopular now.
Ezekiel’s message reveals the uncomfortable truths; it does not challenge only the rulers, kings and high priests. It also challenges us to look at ourselves and discover those uncomfortable truths that we hide behind our appearances. Like a sentinel, Ezekiel sounds a warning; he blows a whistle to awake our consciences. He questions the status quo; he challenges the system; he calls us individually to remove the obstacles and barriers that stand in the way of God’s plan for humanity.
Matthew picks up from the Ezekiel warning and enlarges it so that the responsibility of calling to repentance falls on more than one person, eventually on the community. In Jesus’ time, people lived in small and closely knitted communities and not in mega-cities like we do today. Thus, the idea of fraternal or communal correction was quite familiar to them. In early Christian community, it would have been crucial to resolve internal disputes and ensure harmony of a common life for all. Today’s Gospel addresses difficult circumstances that confront the life of a community. When a brother or a sister strays, it is the duty of the whole community to restore him/her. In effect, we are called to be our brother’s/sister’s keepers. In our increasingly litigious society, Jesus provides us with the alternative Christian model of fraternal correction, care, accompaniment.
Dear brothers and sisters,
It is not easy for us to be the meddlesome prophets and to speak the inconvenient truths of the Gospel. Yet, that is our calling even as we were baptised and anointed like Christ as priest, prophet and king. We need to see, judge and act in a way that brings the Gospel to life. In particular, we need to be the voice for the voiceless, the force for justice and equity, the defence for the defenceless and vulnerable. St Paul reminds us that we should avoid getting into debt, except the debt of mutual love. We owe that debt especially to the poor, the needy and the suffering around us and beyond.
Yesterday, I was privileged to launch the Australian Bishops’ Social Justice Statement for this year. It is entitled “Everyone’s Business: Developing an Inclusive and Sustainable Economy”. In this document, we follow the lead of Pope Francis in calling for an economic system that is at the service of all, particularly the poor. As a nation, we have enjoyed much prosperity and become one of the wealthiest countries. Yet, the gap is growing not smaller, but wider. The most vulnerable including the lowest paid, those living on income support, those at risk of homelessness, and Indigenous Australians have it tougher than ever before.
Jesus teaches us to be faithful to our mission as agents of the Gospel. We are meant to be counter-cultural insofar as we dare to name and critique the anti-Gospel attitudes and practices around us. Let us pray for the prophetic courage to live and speak the inconvenient truths, in season and out of season. Let us pray that as we are immersed in truth, justice and integrity of life we become truly salt of the earth and light for the world by the transforming power of Christ.
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