Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily for the 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A 2020 at Holy Spirit Parish, St Clair
Readings: Isaiah 55: 1-3; Romans 8: 35-39; Matthew 14: 13-21
2 August 2020
Building a culture of compassion and communion
I have just come out of two weeks of self-isolation as a result of my recent trip to Victoria. It was an inconvenience to have been cooped up in my residence. On the positive side, I was able to live more reflectively, more simply and more in solidarity with the suffering world.
As disruptive and damaging as it is to societies, the coronavirus has given the entire planet some breathing space, a much-needed respite. We have seen a significant and welcoming reduction in carbon emissions into the atmosphere, oceans, rivers and roads. Fewer ships, planes, cars and human activities mean a reprieve and a jubilee for Mother Nature to replenish itself.
Perhaps, if there is a lesson for us to learn, the pandemic should be putting everything in perspective for us all. It should sensitise us to the sufferings of the poor and all creation. We need a radical new way of living that brings harmony and sustainability to all life. Even if and when we get back to “normal”, we need to think and act differently; we need to rewire ourselves to be in communion with one another as a human family and as part of nature.
Scriptures for this Sunday call us to be a people of compassion and communion as opposed to being siloed, self-centred and disconnected with the reality around us. The God of life revealed in Jesus summons us to be co-creators and co-sustainers of life and love.
Isaiah in the first reading warns his contemporaries against the pursuit of self-interest, greed and power. Isaiah ministered in a turbulent period that involved the demise of Jewish monarchy, the disintegration of society. In the chaos and uncertainty leading to the exile, the vision of a neighbourly and caring community had given way to a ruthless survival of the fittest contest. The ruling class was busy making alliances; the rich were amassing wealth and the poor were left to fend for themselves. Isaiah sounded a warning against this mindless pursuit. “Why spend money on what is not bread, your wages on what fails to satisfy?” He called the people of God back to the covenant, which was the basis for a harmonious and sustainable society.
In the Gospel, Jesus is described as being full of compassion. He was guided by the vision of the Kingdom of God which found expression in the prophetic tradition and ultimately in His own ministry of healing, restoring and feeding others. Faced with a hungry crowd in a deserted place, the disciples reacted with a sense of fear and fatalistic resignation. They wanted to send the people away. But Jesus refused to do nothing. He asked His disciples to confront the need, to act with courage and to do all they could in their power to help others. He told them to start doing the possible rather than fearing the impossible. It was by concrete practical actions of solidarity and sharing that they would be able to change a harsh reality into a celebration of hope.
Brothers and sisters,
It is no accident that Jesus used the Eucharistic formula in transforming the scarcity of the loaves and fishes into God’s meal of abundance for all. As the crowd sat down, He took the loaves, said the blessing and gave them to the people. It is also no accident that this took place shortly before the Jewish feast of Passover. This meal was to prefigure the ultimate act of God’s self-giving on the cross. It was to foreshadow the divine hospitality and abundance of the Kingdom. Those who partake of God’s meal cannot remain indifferent to any mismatch between divine abundance and human need. They must feed the hungry people with God’s gift of abundance. Their loaves and fishes of scarcity, when shared with trust and generosity, will be transformed.
The image of a communal meal which was made possible by the spirit of communion and fraternity is a powerful call for us living in the shadow of social and environmental collapse. The Gospel and the vision of Jesus expose the fallacy of “grab what you can” mentality, which undergirds our consumeristic, economic system. We will perish under these conditions unless we return to a more harmonious and sustainable mode of living and sharing.
Let us pray as we share in this Sunday Eucharist that we may live out the call to be a people of compassion and communion. Paul reminds us that the love of Christ will see us through and that God’s plan for us and all creation will prevail. May we be faithful to that duty and live this trying time in silent hope, in vulnerable trust and in humble self-emptying. May we show the alternative pathway of hope through shared humanity against fear and self-centeredness.