Diocese of Derry


6 minutes reading time (1134 words)

Homily - 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time - Bishop McKeown


Sunday, 5 September 2021 

If parables are the chief method of teaching that Jesus uses, healing lies at the heart of what Jesus does. And both his words and his actions proclaim the possibility of renewal in who we are and how we live. What do our scripture readings say to us today in a heavily medicalised world where miracles are not taken seriously?

Firstly, both the prophet Isaiah and Jesus speak of healing for the blind and the deaf. But Jesus was not merely concerned with providing a 1st century national health service. He wanted to proclaim a much deeper and wider sort of healing to all those who felt oppressed by sickness, sin and systems. He wanted to offer hearing to those who were excluded from the secret conversations of the powerful in mainstream society, and speech to those who felt silenced and unable to communicate. He wanted to be a bearer of hope, to show that people were not prisoners of fate and victims of circumstances.

Our contemporary society is also living in a time of anxiety. Anxiety relieving drugs are among the most frequently prescribed medications. Information garnered from social media are the hidden persuaders who mould our desires without our consent – and then we are told the obvious lie that we are freer than ever with the right to choose. But, in reality, we have never been so conditioned. On the political front, there is a deepening mistrust of leaders and a rise of populism that offer simplistic solutions that cannot be delivered. Jesus responds to the chains that bind people, not with a magnificent manifesto but with a quiet gesture in a hidden place, aside from the crowd. In taking the man aside, he shows that he was concerned with people and not with popularity. The Lord gathers us here each week so that we can hear that word of healing hope in the midst of wars and remembrance of terror. The first question the Lord might be asking us this morning is, "Are you bearers of healing and hope filled actions?" If we are only merchants of fear and battle, if we are building walls rather than bridges, we are merely parroting the malaise of our times rather than offer Christ's healing. And we need to pray long and hard with this Gospel passage.

Secondly, the Church, the disciples of Christ, are badly in need of healing. We have become all to aware that original sin is not limited to people outside Church whom it is easy to condemn, just like the Pharisees did. And there is much confusion as to how we should respond. After centuries where Christianity was heavily associated with power, influence and control at national level, there are those who feel drawn to rebuilding that version of Christendom. But we know that such an approach was accompanied by a widespread scorn for those who opposed political power for Church figures. If God so loved the world that he sent his only Son, contempt for others means that we are colluding with the deafness that Jesus wants to heal today. A theology that majors on conspiracy theories and battles points to a dangerous view of ministry directed to the perceived insiders only. Renewal will come when those in leadership in Church find ways to engage with those who feel unable to speak. And we will be renewed only when we allow the Holy Spirit to speak into our hearts and through our way of living. Journeying with Jesus will involve ensuring that many excluded people can hear and be heard. If we listen only to those who are articulate and think themselves wise, we will leave many to be trapped in silence, feeling excluded from the conversations of the powerful. Jesus always wants to bring those on the margins into the circle. If there are some voices that we exclude from the beginning, we are making ourselves deaf. That is not where Jesus was leading.

Thirdly, this week we began the Season of Creation which lasts until the feast of St Francis on October 4th. There is much healing needed if we are to leave a healthy world for our grandchildren. Our economic system is based on a frantic exploitation of natural resources in service of the here and now. It is a system that has enriched the few but polluted the moral, spiritual and physical environment for the many. Divine healing and grace want to free us from the destructive power of a me-centred world. Concern for the environment is not merely a fear-filled angry call to activism or a worship of nature. It is an invitation to build a world that reflects the wealth and limitations of this planet - and balances personal freedom with concern for the weak. Jesus dedicated his time to those who were most burdened. Every society is tempted to let some constituency pay to that the strong can enjoy their privileges. Jesus wants us to live in such a way as to ensure that everyone can be looked after. As the prophet Micah said, faith means acting justly, loving tenderly and walking humbly with your God. We are asked to look to see where sin drives us to be more concerned about our narrow interests and less concerned about those whose voice cannot be heard and who are unable to hear the Good News of God's mercy.

Jesus faced sickness in many forms. Our own society is sick in many ways. Deafness and the inability to be heard affects the lives of many who suffer in silence or self-medicate in order to numb the pain. Each week, we share the broken Body of Christ that was given to heal the world which is broken by sinful actions and attitudes. If we are to be renewed as a Church, we have to measure ourselves against the heart of Jesus that is revealed in today's Gospel. Even in the first decades of the Church, St James knew that snobbery and social distinctions were counter witnesses to the message of Jesus. As the Body of Christ, we have to be prepared to be broken so that people and societies can know healing. A Church that is too attached to our interests and comfort, is unable to go aside into places where people are in pain and crying out for healing. But as we see in the Gospel, when healing is offered, God is praised. We never seek praise for ourselves but desire only that those who see our good works give glory to our Father in heaven. Offering God's healing mercy to those on the margins is where Church has been at its best. It is still where our witness most needed today.

+ Donal McKeown

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