Homily for the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time in Year B 2018, 21 October 2018 on the occasion of the 30th Anniversary of the dedication of Good Shepherd Church, Plumpton.
Readings: Isaiah 53:10-11; Hebrews 4:14-16; Mark 10:35-45
It is with a great sense of gratitude that we gather to mark the 30thanniversary of the dedication of the Good Shepherd Church, Plumpton. We pay tribute to the Capuchin friars who have followed the example of St Francis in building not just a physical structure but also the Gospel-centred community. It is no accident that the shape of this Church resembles the biblical tent of meeting or in Hebrew, the tabernacle. It is a reminder that we are meant to be not settlers here but pilgrims and travelling companions. We are not meant to build monuments to ourselves. Rather, our purpose is to accompany one another on the journey of faith, hope and love. We endeavour to follow the compassionate Jesus and be the sacrament of God’s compassion and care for the least and the last. The Church is first and fore most a presence, an oasis of hope and Good News. In the words of Pope Francis, we are the field hospital which heals the wounded, strengthens the weak and lifts up the lowly. We endeavour to be the Church where everyone can feel welcomed, forgiven, loved and encouraged to live according to the Gospel.
The Word of God this Sunday reminds us of the essence of Christian life and discipleship, which is bound up with vulnerability and powerlessness. To be a true believer is to embrace an alternative mode of existence radically different from the default position of self-interest, the survival-oriented behaviour and the worldly pursuit of security, power and glory. Ultimately, it boils down to our capacity to suffer with others, to have a divine pathos and to act in solidarity with the poor, the vulnerable and the powerless.
In the first reading, Isaiah speaks to his long suffering people in a way that runs contrary to popular hopes and expectations. In what is known as the Song of the Suffering Servant, the prophet goes against the grain by speaking about the vulnerability and powerlessness of the expected Messiah. Instead of acting like a super-hero against the enemies of the people, he would be equipped with the weapon of humility, integrity and justice. He would be “crushed with anguish and by his sufferings would justify many”. He would restore Israel not through domination and violence but through love, compassion and justice.
This was not a kind of Messiah that the oppressed and humiliated people expected. It went against the pride of a chosen race who relished the memories of greatness. Yet Isaiah persisted in speaking a prophecy of love over hatred, gentleness over violence, humility over arrogance and vulnerability over force. Furthermore, he challenged the people to resist the imperial model of power, security and retaliation. In exile, they learned to worship the God who chose the way of compassion, gentleness, vulnerability and powerlessness.
This is also the kind of God Jesus revealed in his own life and ministry. Last Sunday’s Gospel, he invited the rich young man to experience an alternative mode of existence –one that is based on trust and shared life rather than accumulation and personal security. In today’s episode, he ‘ups the ante’. He urges his disciples to enact vulnerability and powerlessness not merely in what they have but in who they are. Following the dispute about greatness, he instructs them: “If anyone wants to become great among you must be your servant, and anyone who wants to be first among you must be slave to all.” For St Francis these words of Jesus constitute the marrow of the Gospel. To be his follower is to walk the path of vulnerable trust that Jesus walked. It was the downward journey that culminated on Calvary. It is a reversal of the way of self-interest, power and glory that the disciples were oriented to.
Brothers and sisters,
Today, we are challenged to embrace the path of authentic Christian discipleship based on the teaching and example of Christ. The sexual abuse crisis has highlighted a Church culture that is far from the vulnerability and powerlessness that Isaiah prophesied and Jesus enacted. Instead of demonstrating the fundamental ethos of care, compassion and solidarity with the most vulnerable, the Church has been shown to hold onto its default position of looking after its own security and interests. With humility and contrition, we have to admit that we are still enslaved to the worldly model of security, power and glory. We cannot regain our moral credibility without first reclaiming the innocence and powerlessness of the Suffering Servant, and making it the cornerstone of all that we do and all that we are.
As we celebrate the milestone of our faith journey, we are resolved to follow the path of the vulnerable and humble Christ. We are resolved to build the Church on that foundation. Only by dying to power, domination, ostentation and rising to humility, simplicity, servant-hood can we be catalysts for renewal and agents of the Gospel. Let us pray that as a community of disciples, we learn to be humble servants of one another. May this Franciscan parish be known for its characteristic care, compassion and solidarity with all people, especially the poor and the vulnerable.
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