Today in the first reading we hear about the Israelites who are walking through the desert. As they go through the desert on the way to the Promised Land, they begin to experience a lot of hardships. They begin to despair.
Today, many of our people are experiencing economic hardships; rising food prices, job losses, violence, collapse of the health system and so forth. Although our nation got constitutional democracy twenty five years ago, they feel that they are still walking through the desert.
As we gather today in the Plenary, they are waiting to receive from us a message of hope. We should not disappoint them
It is encouraging to see that, in the first reading in Exodus, God has made an intervention in the lives of the Israelites who are tired of walking through the dessert. God enters in to their lives in form of an Ark of the Covenant and the dwelling that Moses had created. And through the Ark and the dwelling, God revealed himself to them as a God who has not abandoned them. Instead, God is close to them, and walking with them through the night and through the day. We therefore read in Exodus 40 that: “In the daytime the cloud of the Lord was seen over the Ark and the dwelling; whereas at night, fire was seen in the cloud by the whole house of Israel in all the stages of their journey”. This was God’s message of hope to Israelites.
In our country, it is also the message that our people are waiting to encounter and hear. They want an assurance from us as Bishops that, although we are in a state of technical recession and political uncertainties, God has not abandoned us. God is walking with us as a nation, both during the daytime and night time.
Recently, President Cyril Ramaphosa has announced that we are in a technical recession and the nation should brace itself for another round of massive job losses.
Through this experience as a nation, our people expect us to announce a message of hope and declare with faith using the words of St Paul that, as a nation, “we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; struck down, but not destroyed (2 Cor 4:8-9).
One of the priests once asked me: Is this not time for Bishops to encourage us to consecrate the nation and entrust it to God’s mercy in the Sacred Heart of Jesus? Perhaps, we should.
As Bishops, it is important that we realize that our message of hope should always be accompanied by a call to repentance.
After all the words that we spoke to one another yesterday, we now sit before the Lord in the upper room so that the only words that should speak to us this morning should be the words of Christ. We acknowledge that the word of God we have heard in the gospel is a call to repentance.
I think the damage that the abuse has done to the Body of Christ is so deep that a mere adherence to the policies and protocols will not restore the trust in the church. We need to do something over and above a mere observance of protocols on sexual abuse. We need to open our hearts to repentance and conversion of heart. To use the metaphor in the gospel today, we need to allow God as the fisherman to collect us, to bring us to the shore, to search into our hearts, to separate the good from the bad, and then throw away the bad fish within our hearts.
Over and above the protocols and press statements that we make, the victims of abuse are waiting for this repentance. They are waiting for a repentance that enables us to see that the healing their pain is more important that protecting the institutions in the church. This is because the wounds in their hearts are the wounds of Christ crucified. They are waiting for repentance that enable us as bishops to listen to them, to believe them, to walk with them. They are waiting for a repentance that enable us as Bishops to ensure that those who have abused are never again able to offend. As Bishops, if we have repentance in our hearts, we shall start to hold one another to account. The crisis that we now face as a church will lead to purification, if we open up to this form of repentance.
If we are to take this path over and above preaching about God’s forgiving our individual sins, we need to start preaching that God’s mercy is so powerful that it can forgive and heal sins of the nation. At a fundamental, a large number of our problems in the country are a result of our reluctance as a nation to repent from the sins of the nation.
Pope Francis has helped us to identify some of the sins of the nation. Here, we can talk about the sins of greed and corruption, the sins of hostility to immigrants and racism, the sins of destruction of environment and culture of violence, the sins of lack of respect for life and culture of abortion, the sins of materialism and worship of wealth.
The message of hope that we should preach as a church should be a message of inviting our nation to repent from personal sins and the sins of the nation. I am sure that many of our people do not associate the message of hope with a call to repentance. However, as is evident in the gospel parables in the book/gospel of Matthew 13, the message that we are supposed to preach, this message of the good news about the Kingdom of God, is a message about repentance and personal encounter with God’s mercy, that is why in the gospel today, we hear that God is like a fisherman who uses a dragnet for his fishing, there are two phases. In the first phase, the fisherman is perceived as being merciful. For many hours, he patiently drags the net through the sea collecting both bad and good fish. While dragging the net through the sea for many hours and allows plenty of time for the bad fish to repent and transform into good fish.
During apartheid and now 25 years after apartheid, like a fisherman, God has been patient with us as a nation. Although we have sometimes made efforts to self-destruct as a nation, God has not destroyed us. To echo the words of Pope Francis, although we are tired of asking for God’s forgiveness, God is not yet tired of forgiving us, cleansing us and healing us as a nation. And this should be the message of hope that we as bishops should announce to the nation.
Homily by Bishop Duncan Tsoke to the SACBC Bishops during their Plenary. 01st August, 2019