15th Sunday Year C - Homily 4

Homily 4 - 2019

We have heard the story before. But, I hope, we have all matured somewhat since we last heard it, even if it was only three years ago. And if we have matured, we can hear it differently. As I listen to today’s Gospel passage, the question running through my mind is the eminently practical and pertinent question asked by Jesus, “Who proved to be a neighbour to the one who fell into the brigands’ hands?”

I have been thinking of late of Refugees and Asylum Seekers. It is just six years since Pope Francis flew down to the Italian island of Lampedusa in the Mediterranean Sea and offered Mass there for all the asylum seekers who had drowned at sea trying to make their way from the North African coast to Europe, via Italy. His gesture aroused considerable publicity and threw the light of the world’s media onto the plight of Refugees generally.

If we in Australia were to ask Jesus today, “Who is my neighbor?” might he tell a story not about a beaten-up traveller on the way from Jerusalem to Jericho but about Asylum Seekers who attempted to get by boat to Australia, were intercepted and detained on Nauru or Manus Island?

Might Jesus now be looking into the eyes of each of us and asking, “Who proved to be neighbour to the refugees knocking on Australia’s doors.” For Jesus, acting in a neighbourly way is not a matter of post-graduate, but of elementary, Christianity – inextricably bound up with the basic need to love God. If we truly love God, we shall find that our horizons open out. If we do not do so already, we could well find ourselves in time also loving refugees.

In light of the results of the recent Federal Election where the issue of refugees hardly surfaced, we seem to be heading into a rather severe moral winter. We can now expect little positive leadership from politicians and their public servants, or even little interest from the Australian public. Sadly, disengagement from the plight of refugees is not just local. It seems to be worldwide. And if world leaders persist in seeing war as the default solution to international arguments, the flood of refugees will only increase.

Realistically, in a generalised climate of forgotten values and virtue, we can anticipate a period of severe frosts and chilling winds, fogs and mists – taking shape in the continuing thrust to de-humanise and de-personalise real desperate, traumatised but hope-filled persons and to reduce them to statistics, problems and threats by unthinking, oft-repeated and destructively emotive labels such as “illegals”, “queue-jumpers”, potential “threats” to our security and to our jobs. Personally, we can protect against the frost by persisting in seeing refugees as real persons, and help the fog to lift by using the time to inform ourselves about what is really going on.

Winter is the time when natural things silently put down roots. We, too, will need to go deep, to draw life from an ever-closer personal relationship with Jesus to keep ourselves inspired, motivated and in touch with his vision of the dignity of every human person and, as we heard in the gospel today, to prioritise the value of practical mercy and compassion in order to make our world a home worth living in.

In the meantime, we patiently await the spring. Change will take time. We are in it for the long haul. There are no easy solutions. The struggle will be to keep our compassion and our hope alive. In the generally dispiriting mood of the present, at a time of pervasive and enervating “compassion fatigue”, we shall need each other’s support. Preferably, it will help to band together, to join with others who share our concerns, in groups, for example, like Rural Australians for Refugees.

"Who proved to be a neighbour to the one who fell into the brigands’ hands?”