Well done, good and faithful servant - Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

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Home > Archbishop > Homilies > Well done, good and faithful servant - Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

This has been a momentous week for Australia. The results of the National Postal Survey have shown that, of those who voted, a majority of Australians have supported the Yes position on changing the definition of marriage. With this result, we have clear evidence that the Australian nation has moved away from its Christian roots. It has set itself on a path of shaping the future culture according to a secularist view of life. No longer do many have reference to a Supreme Being or universal truths about the nature of the human person as a guide for their conscience and the shaping of their way of life.

This is a watershed moment in Australian cultural history.

However, it is important to note that nearly five million Australians voted to retain the traditional understanding of marriage. Many who voted No did so for religious reasons. They believed that there is a natural order wisely designed by God and that human beings should follow the intentions of the Creator.

Christians who hold to the teachings of the faith now find themselves as a minority in Australian society. We find ourselves out of step with popular opinion. We find ourselves needing to withhold our opinions in general discussion for fear of being condemned. We find ourselves intimidated and under threat of reprisal if we voice our views.

In the Gospel today the Lord likens the kingdom of heaven to a master entrusting talents – a generous amount of money - to his servants. The great gift we have received from the Lord is surely the gift of our Christian faith. We did not earn or deserve it. We have received it as a gift, a precious gift. We prize it. It is indeed a treasure.

The parable raises the question of how we use the gifts - the talents - we have received. We are taught that it is not good enough to simply keep it to ourselves, burying it for safety. We are to take the risks associated with using what has been given to us. The parable clearly indicates what the Lord expects of us: we must use our talents, and not hide or bury them.

This will be the great challenge for us as Christians in the time ahead. How do we use our gift of faith in a situation when to have faith and witness to it is likely to land us in trouble? Nevertheless, we cannot simply bury our faith in the ground, hidden and unused, kept for our own private comfort.

On the political stage we must put the case for the respect for freedom of conscience. It is not just an issue of religious freedom for churches, but it is important that all Australians are able to express their views on marriage and other related issues. Further, we need to be able to secure the acceptance that faith-based schools are able to teach the traditional understanding of marriage according to the tenets of the faith and that church agencies are able to operate in a manner consistent with the beliefs of the sponsoring church.

Australia has the heritage - due in no small way to Christianity - of freedom of conscience and respect for the dignity of every citizen. We have presumed these freedoms, but now we must advocate for them. They are now under serious threat.

Australia was one of the eight nations involved in the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Composed in the aftermath of the Second World War, the document asserts, “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”

We would consider this statement as a fundamental understanding of living in Australia. However, we may find ourselves denied this right, if current legislation is passed without suitable protections to freedom of conscience. Australia is also a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which came into legal force in Australian law in 1980. Article 18 of this covenant asserts, “Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.”

It mentions specifically the rights of parents when it states that there is to be, and I quote, “respect for the liberty of parents and, when applicable, legal guardians to ensure the religious and moral education of their children in conformity with their own convictions”. The fundamental right of parents to oversee the moral and spiritual formation of their children is a critical element to being a nation that prizes personal freedom. This freedom could be compromised unless it is specifically included in any legislation to change the definition of marriage.

Currently across Australia there is no appropriate protection for freedom of religion. Apart from exemptions being made for religious ministers, there are currently no protections for those who, for religious reasons or conscience, cannot formally recognise or take any part in same-sex weddings. There are no protections for church agencies that provide essential services to the community like education, welfare and healthcare. Christians will be very vulnerable and subject to anti-discrimination laws.

The right to religious freedom and freedom of conscience goes to the core of the person. What one conscientiously believes about the nature of human life is fundamental to how one shapes one’s ethical life and one’s conscience. It lies at the heart of one’s personal identity. Every person does in fact have a fundamental set of beliefs which shape their attitudes, their ethical stance and aspirations for their life. This is something sacred to each person.

We are at a most significant moment in our nation’s history. We Christians will need to re-examine how we are to live out our faith. We cannot bury our faith in the sand and try to be seen as compliant, ordinary citizens. We must learn how to live our faith in a new way, faithful to God’s eternal truth, yet now more as leaven in the dough, silent, hidden and yet transformative. We will need to be cunning as serpents and yet guileless as doves.

The parable of the Lord today offers that most engaging scene of the servant standing before his master to give an account of how he used what was given to him on trust. Those who were responsible and used the gifts wisely hear the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” We are all now challenged to find the ways in which we will be good and faithful servants.

Archbishop Julian Porteous
Sunday, November 19, 2017