06 September, 2015

Homily for the Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time (B) - Faith and the Refugee Crisis

James 2:1-5
‘Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: it was those who are poor according to the world that God chose’ (James 2:5).
The Letter of James speaks words of encouragement and warning to the Church so that we who are the Body of Christ may learn to grow in imitating the life of Jesus and his faithfulness to the Father. For James faith, Christian faith, is not a thing of our own that we can possess. Rather, faith is something we have a share in. As followers of Jesus we have faith in the sense that we have a share in the one faith of Jesus himself towards God the Father. It is his life we try to live in our lives and it is his faith that guides us in doing this.
So, as our second reading opens it says quite boldly, ‘Do not try to combine the faith in Jesus Christ, our glorified Lord, with the making of distinction between classes of people.’ (James 2:1) This is a strong statement, but somehow I do not feel that our translation captures its full force. A better translation would read, ‘Do not hold the faith of our glorious Lord Jesus Christ while showing acts of favouritism’. Of course, at the back of our minds we sort of already know that showing favouritism it’s not always a good thing, and we know from other passages of Scripture that we should not do that, but what James is really trying to make us understand is something altogether more radical. We cannot hold Jesus’ own faith, we cannot have a share in it, if we discriminate in unjust ways; we cannot show favouritism if we live in the way Jesus did. What James invites us to do is to recognise that we cannot have double standards towards others and make ourselves judges over them because Jesus embraces everyone who comes to him, regardless of their wealth or status. If anything, he reaches to the outcasts of society and the poorest, siding with them. Likewise, if we do want to have share in the faith of Jesus towards the Father, and we want to live his life in our lives, we ought to do the same.

Yet, favouritism, unjust discrimination, and distinction between classes of people are things we see every single day. Then, how can we put this teaching into practice?
In our second reading James gives us the example of how we treat people with double standards. Suppose we wanted to find another setting for it rather than a religious assembly; we might set James example where other people gather; at a train station maybe; yes, perhaps at St Pancras International, at the Eurostar arrival platform… How would this example play out? Allow me paraphrase the text.
“Now suppose that a man arrives, dressed in beautiful clothes (a wealthy tourist travelling from the Middle East like the ones who holiday in London for the summer), and at the same time a poor man arrives in shabby clothes (someone who’s left his home with just his skin, someone who has seen his children drown on the way here) and you take notice of the well-dressed man, and say, ‘Come this way; there are lovely overpriced apartments in Knightsbridge for your to stay in’ then you tell the poor man, ‘Stand over there’ or ‘You can stay for a night in a heavily guarded refugee camp’. Can’t you see that you have used two different standards in your minds, and turned yourselves into judges?”
There is a refugee crisis sweeping across the globe. It is estimated that about 60 million people are fleeing their homes at the moment not just travelling in and towards Europe, but also in the Far East and Africa. It is a crisis that we cannot avoid, it is happening and it has only been brought to the attention of the national media in a slightly more compassionate way by the heartless, undignified, inhuman broadcasting of photographs of a drowned child washed up on a distant shore.
Yet, our political class seem to think that chucking money at the problem will make it go away. It would seem that as a society we are set to allow predictable, sanitised death for our citizens with an assisted suicide Bill, and to deny life to the poor outside our borders by closing our doors and letting our charity fall from on high.

‘Do not hold the faith of our glorious Lord Jesus Christ while showing acts of favouritism’.
It is time for us to act. To paraphrase our second reading once again, “We cannot hold the faith of our glorious Lord Jesus Christ while showing acts of favouritism” and treating refugees like second class people. It is time to really pray incessantly for peace, it is time to give generously, it is time to have the courage to reach out to people like Jesus did, and it is time to pester those in authority that they may actually do something this humanitarian catastrophe.

I leave you with the prayer the Church of England has issued this past week for the refugee crisis. Let us pray,
Heavenly Father,
you are the source of all goodness, generosity and love.
We thank you for opening the hearts of many
to those who are fleeing for their lives.
Help us now to open our arms in welcome,
and reach out our hands in support.
That the desperate may find new hope,
and lives torn apart be restored.
We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ Your Son,
Our Lord,who fled persecution at His birth
and at His last triumphed over death. Amen.

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