Homily for the 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C, Sacred Heart Parish, Luddenham-Warragamba, 09 October, 2016
I am pleased to be here to celebrate the induction of your Parish Priest, Fr Giovanni Gaviria who hails from a distant land of Columbia. We thank him for his missionary spirit and generous service to the parish and the diocese. Under his leadership and with your collaboration, may the work of the Gospel bear fruit and the mission of the Church in Luddenham-Warragamba strengthen and flourish going forward.
Some might bemoan the diminishing presence of local clergy and religious. Others might feel disconcerted about the increasing number of foreign born priests, not to mention your bishop who came way out of left field. Nevertheless, we must also be open to the God of surprises, the God who uses unusual means to achieve his purpose. We need to look no further than the election of Pope Francis in order to recognise the God of surprises. If critical times call for critical measures, then I am led to conclude that Pope Francis is the shock therapy of the Holy Spirit, one which the Church desparately needs.
The Word of God today speaks to us about the God of surprises. It challenges us to broaden our minds, widen our horizons, enlarge our hearts and stretch our capacity to love. We need to be alert and open to God’s saving grace even in the most unlikely places and people.
In the first reading, we are told of an interesting encounter between Elisha the prophet and Naaman the Syrian army officer who is also a leper. Naaman was told to wash himself in the muddy pool by the roadside and was offended by the prophet’s invitation. “Surely I have better and cleaner pools than this in order to wash myself clean” he thought. However, Naaman overcame his initial repugnance, immersed himself in the dirty water and found himself cured of his leprosy. What is revolutionary about the story is the fact that he was a non-Jew and that God’s love was stretched to reach a physically and ritually unclean person. We are reminded of the story of Jonah and his reluctance to go and preach forgiveness to the pagans of Nineveh. Even in primitive times, God’s people were called to stretch their capacity to love and to prod at their entitlement and exclusivism.
This is also the focus of the Gospel story. We are told that Jesus met and healed ten lepers along the border between Samaria and Galilee. They had been isolated, ostracised and condemned to a life at the margins of society. Jesus was an expert at meeting people in that precarious space, which is why the Gospel is at pains to point out the location of their encounter. He identified himself with the marginalised by immersing himself at the margins. He walked the dangerous walk with people who were kept at a distance from the powerful and the privileged.
Now, one thing that makes this story unusual is that these lepers are traveling with a Samaritan. Not only is this man a leper, but he is outside of the circle of acceptability. He is physically as well as spiritually unacceptable – a total outcast. Yet, it is he who showed an extraordinary depth of faith and gratitude. This encounter would have set the scene for Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan. It was the story of the unlikely hero: the outsider became the insider, the outcast became God’s favoured, the last first, the disinvited at the table. Jesus in turn challenges us to expand our limited horizons, to find goodness, blessings and opportunities disguised in the harsh realities of life, to discover beauty, love and dignity in the unlikely characters around us.
Dear friends in Christ,
The Word of God is rich with many layers of meanings and lessons for us. We could identify ourselves with the Samaritan leper and return to give thanks to God. For like him, we realise our unworthiness and find in Christ’s unconditional acceptance the source of our dignity and authenticity. We could also learn from Christ who immersed himself totally in the coalface realities of pain, suffering, isolation and condemnation that many experience. It is that precarious existence where the true cost of our discipleship is counted, because we dare to walk with the Samaritans of our time, just like Jesus did before us. They could be asylum seekers, the homeless, the indigenous, the victims of injustice, the Muslim refugees etc…
Ultimately, we are challenged to prod at our own sense of entitlement and to stretch our capacity to love. For that is where the God of surprises calls us to be.
Let us pray for Fr Giovanni and his ministry of leadership and service in this part of the Lord’s vineyard. May the example of the good shepherd who came to look for the lost sheep, bind up the wounded and care for the weary inspire him to do the same. May Christ who was faithful to his mission to the end help us to be faithful to ours. May Mary the Mother of God who fulfilled her mission by her humble fiat and her courageous fidelity be our model and guide during the time of change and transition.
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