Jun 9, 2008

Homily for the 10th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A - Given at Bundeena and Cronulla on 8 June, 2008

In most countries of the world, the end of June marks the end of the financial year. Each of us begins thinking about taxes, tax returns and some of us may begin to consider investments, mortgages, and pensions. With the current interest rate rises, and extremely high petrol prices, every family and individual is starting to feel the pinch. Financial concerns are important and each of us gives due consideration to our financial management.


In today’s Gospel, the writer introduces a new character to the reader. We are introduced to a Jewish man named. Matthew was hated by all the Jewish people because he worked for the Roman Empire, the occupying presence in Israel. Matthew would visit people, often members of the Jewish community, and he would assess how much tax was owing to the Roman Empire. Matthew made his income by over-assessing and over-charging his brothers and sisters, the Jewish people.


 In most cultures, even today, the tax man is an unpopular job. For many Jewish people at the time of Christ, they believed that paying taxes was in essence the work of the devil.

Taxes were a sign that a community was unable to live in harmony, and that the community was dominated and controlled by someone more powerful. Tax was something that the pagan emperors used to force everyone in society to contribute.


In a perfect world, taxes shouldn’t be necessary. Governments shouldn’t exist. Families should look after each other. Neighbours should help neighbours when one is in trouble. And when there is a threat of war, families should unite in defending their land and property.

For the devout Jew, tax, professional armies and large government were a sign of disorder, disharmony, and unfaithfulness to God.


It is into this context that Jesus calls the Jewish taxman “Matthew” to follow him.

Matthew was a tax collector and was most likely a very good accountant. When Matthew came to follow Christ, his skills with accounting were not lost. In fact, the skill of accounting is an important part of what it means to be a follower of Christ.


Financially, we as a society are becoming more and more stretched, but also more aware. We plan ahead, not just as a country, but also as individuals. And towards the end of the financial year, we account for expenses and make our returns.


But why aren’t we so careful and premeditated in the way we use and account for the other resources we have.

Each of us has received many wonderful gifts from God. Each day we are alive is a gift from God. Financial wealth is a gift from God. One may claim that an individual is responsible for personal growth in wealth, however without the gifts of life, health and wellbeing, growth in wealth is impossible.


As we account for the ways we spend our money, we should also account for our time, for our relationships, and for the ways we use our talents. We shouldn’t need to account for relationships based on love, but even in loving relationships, we give gifts of flowers, we have celebrations and so on.


Matthew, the tax collector, would have accounted for his gifts. He would have calculated how much time he was spending on coming to know Christ. But he would have also accounted for the time he spent with his friends, his family, relaxation and personal time.

In the business world, everything a company does is designed to increase profit. Everything a follower of Christ does should help to build the Kingdom of God. As followers, we should account for the ways that we are building the Kingdom of God.


Recently I returned from the USA where I visited a parish community and a diocese where I worked last year for about 10 weeks. In the diocese of Wichita, Kansas, in the very centre of the US, the Catholic faith is stronger than any other religious denomination in that area, even among young people. The people are ordinary Americans: predominantly of Irish and German backgrounds. Most are middle class workers and professionals involved with the nearby Boeing Aircraft Manufacturing Plant. On average 85% of Catholics attend Mass every weekend, compared to our parish where about 10% attend weekly Mass.


In Kansas, the parishioners feel that they own the church. Each parishioner takes personal responsibility for the mission of the Church. They look after each other and encourage each other. While I was there last year, a young 16 year old girl with two children was kicked out of home by her parents. The parish took her in, looked after her and her children, nourished them and helped to finish school.

In Wichita, Kansas, the church is a place of prayer every hour of every day, not just on Sundays. For all 168 hours of the week, there is someone praying in the church for needs of the community and the world.

There are more examples I could give of the amazing work of the church in Kansas, but I will stop for now.


Our parish here in Cronulla also does some wonderful things. We are helping children who have recently lost their parents. We pray for them and support them in whatever ways we can. Cronulla would not be the same with the active presence of our Catholic community. But I think we can be doing more.


If each of us understood that we owned the Church and that you and I have a responsibility to give a return to God for the gifts he has given to us, and that you and I have a share in the mission of Jesus Christ, then I think the church in Bundeena/Cronulla would begin to flourish.


This week, begin an accounting of your life. What sort of quality time do you give to the Church, your family, our community, our God? Begin to look at the church and begin to get more involved. This week, think of one or two things you can do to more fully assist with bringing people to faith in our parish.

Matthew the tax-collector left his evil job, followed Jesus and very shortly after, he brought his friends and work colleagues to friendship with Jesus. Let us do the same.  


Let us pray:

Loving Lord and Father, we praise and thank you for giving us life, freedom and order. Help us during this week to consciously work to build your kingdom and to let your will done in our hearts and lives. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen. 


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