Diocese of Derry


6 minutes reading time (1266 words)

Homily - 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Bishop McKeown


Sunday, 11 October 2020 

Parables form a large part of Jesus' teaching style. Parables are not fables, which generally involve animals or nature. Jesus illustrates his points by talking about people and scenes that his listeners experienced in their own lives. And one idea that occurs often in the Old Testament - as we see in the first reading - is that the end of time will be like a great heavenly banquet or wedding feast. So, when he used this image in today's parable, people immediately knew what he was talking about.

Firstly, Jesus promises that there will be a reward for the poor and the just at the end of time. That fact has not stopped Jesus arguing for reward and justice for them here as well. Indeed, he directs so much of his ministry to those who were seen as unimportant or to be avoided because they were poor or ill or classified as outsiders by the establishment. Jesus is not just offering opium to the suffering masses, telling them to not complain. Jesus is presenting a revolutionary view of human life that is not merely earth-bound and time bound. We get our dignity, not from wealth or arrogance but from one who views us through loving rather than judgemental eyes. Life hereafter gives meaning to life here. Eternity creates a context for a heroic life on earth. That is why St Paul can say in our second reading - There is nothing I cannot master with the help of the One who gives me strength.

When a society decides that I am the measure of the value of my life or of someone else's right to be born, then we become our own worst enemy. Jesus frees us from the desire to be the infallible measure of all things.

Our rich sacramental life is focussed on asserting that dignity of human life. The body is washed in baptism and anointed with oil, we received the Body and Blood of Christ in Communion, we are offered forgiveness for the real sins of life, Christian marriage is a sacrament of Christ's love for his Church and our sick bodies are not shunned but anointed with oil. That is why we can be invited as honoured guests to the divine banquet. Because human life is of eternal value, we put a value on human life from conception to natural death. That belief might not have any meaning for those who view life as having no meaning outside my short span of years. But for those who acknowledge the Cross, suffering is never easy to bear but it is never without meaning. Faith tells me that my life is not my property but a gift with beauty in all its facets. When a society decides that I am the measure of the value of my life or of someone else's right to be born, then we become our own worst enemy. Jesus frees us from the desire to be the infallible measure of all things. God lays on a free banquet. We have only to turn up when invited.

Secondly, in speaking to his listeners in Jerusalem, he is critical of the fact that the religious leaders may occupy the top positions - but that their prime goal is often to look after their business rather than be answerable to God's priorities. Jesus announces to the 'chief priests and elders' that they were invited to the celebration for God's son but were too busy with their own affairs – and that their places will be taken by others who seemed less important. Leadership in church and state are meant to be at the service of the Common Good and not of uncommon greed. That is one of the messages of the latest encyclical from Pope Francis, Fratelli Tutti. Good leaders inspire us to be great people. Despite the many failings of the past, the churches in this country inspired thousands of talented young men and women to give their lives in the service of education and health in impoverished places around the world. In this Mission Month, we give thanks for those who have made an enormous contribution to human dignity in far flung places. In Northern Ireland, despite all our loss and pain, we had a group of wise leaders who sacrificed much in order to bring some sort of peace and reconciliation here. Good leaders can admit their mistakes and learn from them. When leaders offer good example and speak of high ideals, they inspire others. When they champion individualism or narrow agendas, they kill the young hearts that want to dream. We still need good leaders who can speak the truth in a way that encourages and liberates.

Thirdly, we are facing into a challenging winter. I know that, for many parishes, the next number of months can seem long and without shape. Normally, we can plan as we get ready for November, for the pre-Christmas Advent services, for the 12 days of Christmas and so on. Jesus asks us not to be afraid of what lies ahead. He invites his followers to recognise – as he always did - the reality of people's lives and then speak hope and mercy into that. This is not an easy time for those in leadership at all levels of church, state, education and business. But this is where we are called to minister now. Our task is not merely timidly to provide basic religious services for those who wish to avail of them and think we have done enough. The credibility of Christ's missionary followers will be judged, not by how much we insisted on our rights but on how much we defended those who feel left out. Unless we work hard to 'wipe away the tears from every cheek and take away (his) people's shame', others will rightly ask whether we really believe in the heavenly banquet that makes sense of the Cross, whether we are generously concerned about others or just narrowly anxious about ourselves. That was the downfall of the Jerusalem establishment that Jesus criticises so heavily in today's Gospel.

Over the next weeks, we will hear other parables and insights from the lips of Jesus. We will hear about those who are made uncomfortable by the parables, so unhappy that they want to have him killed. But Jesus still invites us to gather each Sunday to hear Good News about what we are and what we can become. His words may make us feel ill at ease or afraid, just as the apostles must have felt uneasy when Jesus was challenging the Jerusalem establishment. Yesterday in Assisi, there was the the beatification of a young Italian, Carlo Acutis who died in 2006 aged 15. In life he had a fascination with computers, the poor and Jesus in the Eucharist – and he faced death with the conviction that God calls us all to be originals, not photocopies of someone else. Jesus can help people of all ages to make sense of life in all its messiness. And in this very messy time, Jesus ask us to follow his example and not to be afraid of speaking the truth in love, whatever the cost.

Fr Paul Farren, Administrator, St Eugene's Cathedral interviewed Carlo Acutis' mother Antonia days before he was beatified in Assisi, Italy on 10 October 2020. She tells of his life as a child, how he believed in the Holy Eucharist and how he lived up to his death at 15 years of age.

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Diocesan Offices
St Eugene’s Cathedral
Francis Street, Derry
BT48 9AP | Tel: 028 7126 2302

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