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Homily - 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Bishop McKeown

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Sunday, 2 October 2022

In the account of Jesus' journey to Jerusalem, we are presented with a series of apparently unconnected teachings. Jesus was remembered by his followers for both his parables and his short teachings. St Luke, who never knew Jesus, has collected these precious memories of the early church – and hands them on to us. What might we learn?


Firstly, we know that belief in God is difficult in our modern secular culture – but we see from the apostles' question that faith in Jesus was never easy. The early disciples found it hard to take seriously what Jesus was saying. They thought that Jesus was silly to talk about dying on the cross. And then they were not too sure what to think when they heard that he has risen on Easter Sunday.

There is a temptation for people in every generation to have a hazy belief that there is something beyond this world – and then tap into it through all sorts of vague beliefs about saints and angels, magic objects and passing fads. But Jesus draws us far beyond that sort of childish beliefs. He tells us to believe in the Father who loves us and expects great things from us. Jesus reveals that he is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. And we hear about the Holy Spirit who lives in our bodies and who sends us out to be a blessing on the world. Thus, we can all make our own the prayer of the apostles, 'Increase our faith'. If our prayer never gets beyond side issues and does not bring us to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, then we are not walking with Jesus to Calvary and Resurrection. We are stuck with a God whom we have made in our own image and likeness. It was to bring us beyond that sort of vaguely Christianised paganism that Jesus came. Our synodal conversation have to start with the prayer, 'Lord, increase our faith'.

Secondly, Jesus tells his disciples to expect great things from God when we trust in him. The Gospels are full of stories where Jesus works miracles. He breaks through the glass ceiling where we want to be in control. Jesus is not a sensible revelation of a small-minded God. As the apostles discovered on Pentecost Day, they were to go out from the upper room, unprepared and frightened – and simply tell people that Jesus had died and had risen. They were to leave the rest up to God working in the hearts of the listeners. St Paul and the apostles allowed themselves to be pushed away beyond their imagination and be sent to Greece and to Rome.

There is always the temptation – and not just in our synodal conversations – to think that God should be trapped by our limited and transient cultural norms. There is much discussion in society about sexuality and identity. It would be a betrayal of Jesus for us to think that, when it comes to church renewal, that God was preoccupied only or primarily with the agenda items that our technocratic culture pushes before our eyes. Only prayerful people and parishes will be open to what the Lord really wants of us. Only a church that recognises that Jesus Christ is Lord will be able to go beyond human ideas and tap into the outrageous divine imagination. A church imprisoned in the upper toom of political correctness will never bring Good News to the public square.

Thirdly, Jesus talks about a spirit of service. He came not to be served but to serve and to give his life. When we think of role models for young people, we often assume that these have to be famous and wealthy stars. But society works, not because of the rich and powerful but because of unknown, often underpaid people who do their work with little fuss. Those who are good neighbours, care for the sick and needy, parent children, volunteer in local communities – these all do much more useful jobs than do many overpaid sports and entertainment stars. Jesus wants to free us from a cultural message that tells young people they are entitled to an easy life and that accepting responsibility is an unfair burden. Life is tough – and those who pretend it is not, are no friends of the human race. Jesus knew that - and took up his Cross. He challenges us to do and expect great things that bless the world. Again, he wants to burst the walls and bars that lock us in a depressing world of limited expectations. The synodal process of renewal is about breaking down barriers, not merely about building cosy verandas where the relatively well-off to feel comfortable, acceptable and non-controversial in secular society.

In our second reading, St Paul knew this uncomfortable truth when he wrote to his young follower Timothy. He was familiar with the first reading from the prophet Habakkuk, for he quotes the last line in his letter to the Romans. Being a disciple of Jesus in every age is tough. People of faith often share the prophet's fear that God is not listening, that oppression and injustice are winning the day. Habakkuk believed that God was in charge. Having faith means trusting in the wisdom of God's ways, even when others laugh at us. Thus, St Paul encourages Timothy to fan into a flame the gift that God has given each one of us. We ought never to be ashamed of witnessing to the Lord. Faith means relying on the power of God and not merely on our own limited wisdom. We gather each weekend around the altar to be strengthened for that difficult mission. We are nourished by the word of God and receive the Body of Christ. And then we are sent out to announce the Gospel of the Lord or to glorify the Lord by your life. This is where the little mustard seed of our faith can grow and bear fruit. This is where we can allow the Lord to fan into the flame the gift that God has given us. We journey on with Jesus as he walks to Jerusalem and Calvary. Are we still prepared to walk with him in faith, no matter where he leads?

+ Donal McKeown

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