The leprosy of Naaman and the ten men in the Gospel serves as a metaphor for sinfulness, the condition that makes us unfit for the presence of God and despicable in the eyes of others. Separated from God and alienated from society, we are truly in a deplorable state, a state out of which we are unable to extricate ourselves. Into these seemingly hopeless conditions step the prophet Elisha and Jesus. Each in his own way brings the healing power and the saving grace of God. After healing comes gratitude and praise. Both Naaman and the lone Samaritan are so filled with gratitude that they return to the one responsible for their healing. They are not so preoccupied with their good fortune as to forget that it came to them as a gift. Their response is the kind of thanks and praise that is proclaimed in the psalm and that is also celebrated at each Sunday’s Eucharist. We have been saved from our alienation from God and from each other so let us give thanks to the Lord. Those who know that they have been healed, who realize that this was a gift freely given to them, and who return to give thanks have, by these acts of devotion, stepped over a threshold into a new way of living.
Faith in God is a gift for which we pray. Jesus uses the image of the tiny mustard seed to illustrate how very little faith is needed to accomplish extraordinary feats. It enables us to move mountains. As unprofitable servants, we do not earn it; we have no right to claim it as our own. We are the ones from whom faithful service will be expected. We will be sent to plough the fields and tend the sheep. We will be called to serve at table, fulfilling our duties faithfully and doing what is required as a disciple. The faith that is ours has been mediated to us through the community. We have heard about God and about Jesus from others, from our parents and families, from our teachers and those who preach, from those with whom we work and play. Faith comes from God and we should strive to live out this faith each day with our family, friends and the people around us.
World Migrant and Refugee Sunday encourages us to ask how we can build a better future together. As with other large goals such as addressing climate change, this can seem overwhelming. The task is enormous and the resources are few. In all worthwhile human enterprises though, small is beautiful and we need to find a patch of rock at which we can chip away and go from there. There are many ways in which we can give to refugees our time, our resources, our voice and our heart. We can take refugees into our heart by supporting them in our own communities and taking practical steps to advocate for issues affecting their lives and futures. Reading their stories, listening to them speak, allowing time to imagine what it must be like to flee fearing for your life and desperate to find food and a night’s shelter for your family are some of the ways we can also connect with them. Through using our voice, heart, time and resources – we have the opportunity to advocate for actions we can take now that will help build the future we want: an Australia that welcomes people seeking asylum and treats them with humanity and compassion.
In the gospel, the steward is praised for his prudence because he recognises that his future will not be secured by gathering up his commissions [or more], his part of the rich man’s wealth. He uses the wealth to make friends who will welcome him and support him in the future. Jesus taught, and Catholic social teaching has long emphasized, that a successful human life is not measured by the accumulation of wealth or power. The ‘good life’ is the fruit of strong and loving relationships, bonds of friendship and justice, and commitment to community wellbeing. ‘Mammon’ means ‘what we trust in’. Jesus is uncompromising: we cannot put our trust in both God and money. The severe socioecological crisis in these times makes very clear how pursuing and valuing a practical idolatry of wealth, above all else, threatens and destroys God’s gifts in creation. It betrays our sacred mission to care for creation and share it in gratitude and love.
Like the younger son in the parable today we can ‘come to our senses’, turn around, and make a new start. Each of us can do something, each of us has a role to play in order to bring healing to our common home. As we all ‘come to our senses’ in relation to the climate and biodiversity crises, Pope Francis tells us in ‘Laudato Si’ to never underestimate the power of small actions which can have a ripple effect across a community; he tells us that ‘Truly, much can be done!’ (LS §180). So today, during this Season of Creation, we are invited to take up this call, to listen to the voice of creation and discern where we are being called to act, in our own homes, in our local communities, to care more deeply for our common home.
We are now in the Season of Creation, from 1st September through to 4th October, the Feast of St Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of ecology. It is a time for the whole Church to renew our relationship with our Creator and all creation through celebration, conversion and action. The symbol of the burning bush that you will see in the Church, and on slides, is the symbol that will take us through this season, recalling God’s presence in creation and the great reverence of Moses standing before God on God’s holy mountain. From this is taken our theme: “Listen to the voice of creation”. We pray, during this season, to be reconciled with God, each other and the earth.
The goodness of God is seen in the extravagant generosity with which God gives gifts. This is described in the psalm in the boundlessness and universal scope of God’s generosity. Like the rain that falls on the entire landscape, the blessings of God are showered on all. These blessings are true gifts. They have not been earned, nor can they be repaid. God’s openness is also seen in the reading from the Letter to the Hebrews and in the Gospel. All are invited to approach the heavenly city; the heavenly banquet will be open to the poor and to those who have no way of repaying. As we have received from the bounty of God, so we are called to give to others. Only those who have received with a humble spirit can give with the generosity of God, for they know that they do not deserve God’s goodness and they do not require anything in return.
Conversion of heart is not something people can afford to put off indefinitely as God’s ways are not our ways. Daily the Gospel challenges the narrowness of our thoughts and the limits of our generosity. To allow this to happen is, in effect, to go in by ‘the narrow gate’, the gate that strips us of the ‘baggage’ our selfishness makes us acquire. For those prepared to live in this way, the question of salvation barely arises. It can be safely left in the hands of the all-generous God whose only desire in our regard is to call us to the banquet of life.
In a rather confronting Gospel passage this week, we hear how Jesus’ message of peace will not always find receptive hearts. The increasing hostility to his message that he encounters will come to a climax as he approaches Jerusalem, the city of destiny. This leads him to see himself as a person who provokes prophetic hostility rather than peace. It seems best to understand the ‘fire’ that Jesus says he has come to bring to the earth as the gift of the Holy Spirit. John the Baptist had prophesied that the coming One would baptise ‘with the Holy Spirit and fire’ (Luke 3:16). And indeed at Pentecost the gathered disciples will receive the Spirit in the visible form of ‘tongues as if of fire’ (Acts 2:3). But the Spirit cannot be given until Jesus has faced and gone through the destiny that awaits him in Jerusalem.
Today’s readings remind us that God has chosen us all as his own. They also highlight the importance of our humble faith and trust in God, who calls us to ‘joyfully take courage’ in the world. The First Reading recalls the night of the Passover, when the Jewish slaves put their trust in God and escaped the oppression of Pharaoh. The Second Reading meditates on the history of Israel, inviting us to imitate people like Abraham and Sarah as models of faith. Faith is the virtue that enables us to keep watching and waiting for the Lord’s presence in the ups and downs of our daily lives. The Psalmist celebrates all peoples: women and men who are chosen by the Lord, and in turn, place their trust and hope in him. In the Gospel, Jesus teaches that while the Kingdom of God has, in one sense, already arrived, in another it is still to come: it is both a gift and a challenge to us. It is therefore vital that we are awake to meet the Master whenever he returns, committing our hearts to the unfailing treasures of his kingdom.