6 minutes reading time (1260 words)

Homily - 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Bishop McKeown

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Sunday, 4 October 2020 

These last few Sundays have shown Jesus in Jerusalem. In the earlier part of his public life, he had tried to bring the religious leaders of his time with him. But he realised that many were not willing to change, to see things through his eyes. Their hearts were too wedded to a limited view of God. Jesus wants followers who will serve God the Father's agenda, not those who will use religious structures to serve themselves.This parable speaks about the tenants who are supposed to produce a harvest in the vineyard – and who end up killing the son of the landowner, a clear reference to himself. What might Jesus be saying to us here in the situation where we find ourselves?

Firstly, the parable is not critical of leadership but of a style of leader. Jesus is a leader – but in a different mould from his contemporaries. He speaks about himself as being the Good Shepherd who knows and is known. He shows that there is a desperate need for leaders who will help others rather than helping themselves. And he often does that by forcing his disciples into a deep sense of their own inadequacy. He sent them out without money or food to preach. He told disciples to feed 5,000 with five loaves and two fish. He wasn't looking for competent employees who could work independently and deliver on his business targets. He was looking for apostles who would trust him with their lives, even when it seemed ridiculous. Trust in the power of God's grace was the main criterion for being a follower, not the ability to impress the divine boss. Trust in a God who would work through their weakness was more of a witness to the truth than a ministry based on human self-confidence.

There is a temptation for some in the Church to think that this is a time to fight back and reassert ourselves over against society. There is a narrative about blaming somebody in the past or the present for the inadequacies of church and trying to be strong again. This can lead to a vision which focuses on increasing control. Jesus seeks to inspire people with the vision of the Gospel and the power of the Holy Spirit. He wants his followers to feel insecure before the task at hand, not secure in our ability to manage the challenge. Angry hearts are stony ground for ministry in the name of the good shepherd. Sour grapes are not part of God's harvest.

Secondly, that is what we celebrate when we gather around the altar each week to remember Christ's death. The disciples had to endure the anguish of Good Friday and the emptiness of Holy Saturday before they could experience Resurrection. The Eucharist is a celebration of divine strength in the midst of weakness and apparent failure. That is the Jesus that we offer to a hurting world. One author has written that anyone engaged in the compassion of Christ must also be able to suffering. They must become what they touch – the Body of Christ.[1] Without a sense of our own weakness, we cannot proclaim and celebrate the power of Jesus whose body was broken for us. Without intimacy with the Eucharistic presence of the abandoned Christ, we cannot help Jesus help those whose lives are a mess. Jesus does not want us to celebrate a successful God but a God whose compassion for the weak was celebrated on the Cross and made present again in the Eucharist. The religious leaders of his time celebrated an apparently successful God who promised them victory over their enemies. That was the source of their dreams and hopes. Jesus bore witness to a different form of victory through apparent weakness and solidarity. We need to celebrate that form of leadership. each week in the face of so many temptations to espouse other forms of leadership

The followers of Jesus do not have to be successful in earthly terms, just true to the example of Jesus. I commend all those parish communities which have tried their best to speak of Jesus to people in their distress. This is not a time for rest or for waiting for things to 'return to normal'.

Thirdly, the question that Jesus poses for those whom he calls is not 'Are you strong enough to serve me at this difficult time?' but 'Are you weak enough to let yourself be used by me at this difficult time?' Yes, Jesus has always called talented people to be his messengers. But the greatest strength of leaders is to know that God's weakness is stronger than human strength. In a world of much macho political leadership, it is easy for many to think that church should model that form of leader or that we should support loud rallying calls. Those who believe they sense a call to follow Jesus have to know that apparent failure will be a part of their ministry. Many great saints knew what is called 'the dark night of the soul' or dejection. Jesus himself knew anguish and a sense of abandonment. Those who depend on their own strength will not be able to cope with weakness. Those who know their weakness will be able to trust in the crazy strength of the Cross. Today we would have been celebrating the feast day of St Francis of Assisi – and last Thursday we celebrated St Therese of Lisieux who died at the age of 24. They became saints not despite their weakness but because of it. They have inspired generations after them because of their simplicity of life. They were foolish enough to trust in God's little ways and not be led astray by the seductive power of power. It is by dying to ourselves that we can allow Christ's risen power to become visible in us, perhaps long after our deaths.

Thus, in this crisis the Church is called, not to struggle to regain power or seek to guarantee our future. St Paul writes to the church in Philippi that they should do what is true, noble, good and pure – and the God of peace will be with them. We are called only to be faithful and to leave the rich harvest to God's own good time. The followers of Jesus do not have to be successful in earthly terms, just true to the example of Jesus. I commend all those parish communities which have tried their best to speak of Jesus to people in their distress. This is not a time for rest or for waiting for things to 'return to normal'. This is a time to share our trust in the weakness of God and to sow the seed with faith in the Lord of the harvest. It is a time to scrutinise our motives so that we allow Christ's vision to mould our hearts and remove earthbound ambitions. It is only a church which is faithful to Jesus' style of leadership that will survive. It is only a Church which models Jesus the Good Shepherd that will go in the right direction. It is only a Church which regularly celebrates the scandal of the Cross that can bear rich fruit for the Lord of the vineyard.


[1] Cf Michael Buckley, What do you seek? 2006, Ererdmans, p.86


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