Homily for 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time 2007
I am not into flower arrangements myself! But even I was impressed with the Flower Show across the road at St John's Anglican Church. The first day of Spring is the time to celebrate new life. And to that end the Flower Show had a Baptismal theme.
It was the same spirit which pervaded the St Vincent de Paul Commissioning Mass this morning as well. Annette Baker was commissioned as Regional President of the Society along with Jacque Cross as Nambour Conference President. It was Wally Ogle's talk at the lunch that followed which set the agenda for the future. He is the new State Housing Manager for the Society in Queensland. He spoke very tellingly of the housing crisis looming in Australia. Eleven percent of the Population is experiencing housing stress. That is, they are spending over 30% of their income on housing. The waiting list for public housing is something like 35000. He claims the figures are as bad as they were during the depression. But it is an even deeper crisis because many of the people have problems of one kind or another, from drug abuse to domestic violence. In fact the whole range of evils which beset us today.
So the challenge he put to the Society and to all of us was to put aside a 19th century welfare model of responding to poverty. That kind of model keeps the poor in their place. It is very paternalistic. We must put a new model in place which truly honours Christ in the poor. That is the spirit, after all, of the St Vincent de Paul Society.
It is all about hospitality. St Luke's Gospel is famous for its recurring stories about the hospitality of God to all, particularly the poor and outcast. The parable today challenges each of us to think about the way we decide who are our proper table companions: Who is deserving of our presence? It challenges us about the grounds on which we exclude people from the Eucharist. The Eucharist we celebrate is a dangerous remembering of how hospitable God is. Jesus welcomed to his last supper, even those who obstructed, denied and betrayed him. The Eucharist shatters all our assumptions of status.
The letter to the Hebrews we read from today tells us that the Kingdom we seek and to which God calls us is not a place or fear and trembling. The writer of Hebrews has Mt Sinai in mind here. On Mt Sinai where Moses spoke with God was a place of fear and trembling. There was thunder and cloud and lightning. Rather, the writer says, we are called to Mt Sion, the place of the Temple. It is a place of peace and celebration where everyone along with the hosts of heaven give praise to God. The passage describes God's hospitality beautifully. It is a vision that is picked up in the Preface of the Mass when we join with all the angels and saints singing Holy, holy, holy.
The Christian Church is certainly not to be a place of fear and trembling as on Mt Sinai. Nor is it to be a self indulgent group of people seeking to feather their own spiritual nests. But it is a place and a people for whom humility and respect for one another and for God are paramount. A place where people live the hospitality of God.