Homily for 25 August
Jesus saves. He fulfils the prophecy of Isaiah: ‘I am coming to gather the nations of every language.’ As the Lord himself says in the Gospel: ‘And people from east and west, from north and south, will come to take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God.’ There are no outsiders to God. There are no outsiders to God. We draw circles indicating who is inside and outside and our circles may get bigger and more inclusive, but God does not draw circles – no one is an outsider to him. He saves.
This Good News, this will to save all challenges any complacency on our part. Jesus in today’s Gospel challenges any complacency. A few weeks ago the bulletin had a quotation from Thomas Merton: ‘So many Christians exalt the demands and rigours of law because, in reality, law is less demanding than pure charity.’ There is complacency born of reducing the following of Christ to a series of moral laws or to doing what father tells me; there is complacency which comes from seeing only certain people as my neighbour. Today, Migrant and refugee Sunday challenges such minimalism.
If we succumb to this then we say: ‘I am breaking these laws and so I just have to focus on obeying them and I shall be alright.’ We may be unhappy about breaking laws, but still be complacent because we do not attend to the more passionate call of Jesus to conversion, to love and to serve freely. Then we see no need to see the migrant, refugee, the stranger as my brother or sister. Jesus does not give us a rule book; he is the Good News, he proclaims, makes present the Good News and calls us to follow him. Law is far less demanding and far more restricting than love.
What then is the opposite of complacency? Not scrupulosity or fearfulness. I would suggest an image; it is not a perfect image, but evocative. I saw a parent holding the hand of a young child as he walked joyfully, but somewhat unsteadily on the footpath yesterday. It is an image of loving attentiveness between parent and child. The parent is alert to the needs of the child, alert to risks to the child; it is an attentiveness, an alertness born of love. There is no rule book which tells you if you are a good mother or father. There is no rule book for loving. And parents struggle with what is the loving thing to do, the best thing to do. Parents are surprised by their children. Children are surprised by what they can do. I am still delighted and surprised by my nephews and nieces who are all teenagers now. There are guides, but we cannot love according to rule. And sometimes love sees more truly; I think of mothers who push medical doctors into action because they know something is wrong with their child.This loving attentiveness, this is an image of that to which we are called by Christ and his Gospel. Loving Jesus and his word makes us realise that following rules or drawing circles does not capture the Good News. Loving attentiveness to Jesus continually shapes our decision-making, calls us to express faith in love and justice, God’s saving life-giving justice. This loving relationship with him also sustains our hope in our frailty and sinfulness. It leads us to ask: How can I respond in this situation to the love of God shown me in Jesus Christ? The better thing to do is to ask the question in conversation to Jesus who loves me: How do you want me to respond to your love? How can I be freer in loving? Open my eyes to my neighbour, Lord.
The final line of the Gospel is warning, but it also hope: ‘There are those now last who will be first, and those now first who will be last.’ If we feel we are last, then hear the Good News now, the Lord’s call now, for we still have the opportunity to be first in the kingdom of our Saviour.