Homily: Mass celebrating the commissioning of new President of Serra Club, 2015

Serra Club Mass
New President commissioned
5th August, 2015

Numbers 13:1-2,25 – 14:1,26-29,34-35 and Matthew 15:21-28.  

A memorable and melancholy history is related in the Book of Numbers and in these two chapters, we read of the turning back of Israel from the borders of Canaan, and their sentencing to wander and perish in the wilderness, for their unbelief and murmuring against God.

For the Israelites at last the end of the long desert journey was in sight.  God tells Moses to send out scouts, a leader from each of the 12 tribes of Israel, to explore the land of Canaan, which he has promised to give them as their own. Forty days later they returned to Moses, Aaron and the whole Israelite community waiting in the desert. However, the scouts do not give a true report, and this results in grumbling and discontent by the entire community and results in great rebellion against God.

Significantly, Israel’s refusal to carry out God’s commission to conquer his land is the climactic act of rebellion for which God condemns Israel to die in the desert.

God will no longer endure the complaints of this perverse community. He finally promises to forgive, but those people who over the years have not obeyed his voice, will not enter the Promised Land. The 40 days of the travels of the scouts becomes the numerical pattern for their suffering: one year for one day – for 40 years they will recount their misjudgment.

Our God is a God of compassion and mercy but there are limits and justice has to be done. These people have brought their misfortunes on themselves. The choice of evil over good contains its own punishment. It is never the work of God.

Today’s gospel is also about faith. Jesus is seen on one of his few visits outside Jewish territory in the cities of Tyre and Sidon on the Mediterranean coast, in what we know today as Lebanon.

While he is there, he is approached by a Canaanite (that is, a non-Jewish) woman whose child is ‘troubled by a demon’.

In her supplication we can already discern the beginning of a journey of faith, which grows and becomes stronger in her conversation with the divine Teacher. The woman was not afraid to cry to Jesus “Have mercy on me”, an expression that we recognise as often recurring also in the Psalms and she calls him “Lord” and “Son of David” thus showing a firm hope of being heard.

What was the Lord’s attitude to this cry of anguish from a pagan woman? Jesus’ silence may seem disconcerting, to the point that it prompted the disciples to intervene, but it was not a question of insensitivity to this woman’s sorrow.

The apparent aloofness of Jesus who said: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” did not discourage the Canaanite woman who persisted: “Lord, help me” And she did not even desist when she received an answer that would seem to have extinguished any hope. She had no wish to take anything from anyone; in her simplicity and humility, a little was enough for her. And Jesus was struck with admiration for an answer of such great faith and said to her: Woman you have great faith. Let your wish be granted.

We too are called to grow in faith, to open ourselves in order to welcome God’s gift freely, to have trust and also to ask Jesus to give us faith. Faith opens us to knowing and welcoming the real identity of Jesus, his newness and oneness, his word, as a source of life, in order to live a personal relationship with him. Knowledge of the faith grows, and it is a gift from God. For this reason our heart must undergo the experience of conversion; every day it must see us changing from people withdrawn into ourselves, to people who are open to God’s action; spiritual people who let themselves be called into question by the Lord’s word and open their life to his Love.

As we commission our new president of the Serra Club today, if we think about that for a moment, I think that we will quickly understand that with our leader, we all need to be men and women who are familiar with the Gospels and who ask themselves day by day, ‘what is Jesus teaching me in the words I have just read; the words that He has spoken?’

As we read the Gospels and ask this question again and again, we will find ourselves getting to know Jesus as though he were a living person standing beside us – and of course that is what Jesus is; a living person who is walking beside us in the ordinary events of our everyday lives. It is important to remember this: we live the Christian life because we know Jesus and we are called to follow Him.

Instead of complaining from time to time about world conditions, let us turn this into prayer and action for justice, peace, and unity; for tolerance, respect and acceptance. Consider the need for renewed knowledge; for transformation, deepened faith and sincere commitment to Christ and His Church, through our work in promoting and supporting vocations. Let us contemplate the privilege of being called to be partners in the new Evangelisation and help us all to respond faithfully to and live out our mission in the Church.

Bishop Leslie Tomlinson