Image: Ernesto Cardenal SJ (© Imago/epd).

‘Oil of gladness, togetherness’

Andrew Collis
Ordinary Sunday 32, Year A
Wisdom of Solomon 6:12-16; Psalm 70; Matthew 25:1-13

Our parable invites thinking about oil, light and joy. Poet-priest Ernesto Cardenal suggests we think of this oil in terms of community spirit … the oil of gladness, togetherness …

Community spirit as fuel for illumination – lighting the way to one another, enlightening discourse. Lighting for focussed works of love … delightful play. The light of God’s own table. Lights for celebration … party lights.

Community spirit as fuel for the long journey (even a long loneliness) … this kind of illumination.

Community spirit as fuel for nights spent waiting … long nights waiting on Wisdom (radiant and unfading) … waiting on salvation (the fullness of which is figured by a feast – the integration of divinity and humanity, we might say, the Word and the world).

There are many ways we might relate to this.

As a parent waits for a child to grasp the complexity of a painful family issue. As scholars wait on a biblical text – for revelation – in the light of stories humorous and serious. As friends wait for friends to gather at a public pool for long-anticipated reaffirmations of baptism …

Geoff Turnbull, SSH urban design editor, writes about a decade-long community campaign for accessibility at Redfern station – a commuter lift on platform 10, a new southern concourse with entrances in Marian and Little Eveleigh streets, promised upgrades including at-grade access to pedestrian lights across Gibbons and Regent streets for bus interchanges.

Michelle Haywood, SSH photographer, shares a portrait of Nazanin Boniadi, an Iranian-born human rights activist and actor, recipient of this year’s Sydney Peace Prize in recognition of her commitment to advancing women’s rights in Iran.

Michelle’s photo of Aunty Norma Ingram with Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Treaty, David Harris, was taken at the NCIE last month. The occasion, the first NSW Aboriginal Languages Week. Community spirit – resilient, strong – sparking conversations and highlighting the revitalisation of Language.

Cathie Harrison, co-convenor of the Mirrung Garden working group at SSUC, mindful of commitments to radical inclusivity and safety, says: “The garden has been about community since the start … many hands, many helpers, and many contributions of recycled materials …”

Witness the spirit of Pasifika leaders who call on the government to respond boldly to the climate and cost-of-living crisis.

The Rev. Mata Havea Hiliau, Moderator of the Uniting Church Synod of NSW and the ACT, says: “Climate change affects everyone, but not everyone equally. Pasifika people, First Nations peoples and communities in Western Sydney will be hit earlier and harder.

“I want us to spare a thought for those who cannot afford a fan, let alone air conditioning. As always, it is those who can least afford it who are being unfairly impacted by the climate and energy crisis playing out today.

“And to our friends across the Pacific watching their homes, their lands, their culture seemingly destined for the bottom of the ocean – we see your struggles, we stand with you, we will campaign with you.”

Miriam Pepper, SSH environment editor, writes: “As well as calling for drastic greenhouse gas emission reductions, increased funding for climate adaptation in the Pacific, and dialogue with Pacific nations about migration and resettlement … [Pasifika leaders] called on the government to assist community members in Western and Southwestern Sydney to access energy efficiency measures and renewable energy. This included the idea of a mobile community energy information hub to help residents to understand what support is available with cost-of-living and climate adaptation. They also urged that a fair share of the employment opportunities arising from the transition to renewable energy go to people on lower incomes.”

Community spirit as fuel for nights spent waiting … long nights waiting on Wisdom … waiting on salvation.

Community spirit as fuel, clean energy – renewable, enjoyable (the point of it all is joy).

For long nights – including the capacity for sleep (soft-lit and warm-dark dreaming).

Waiting on Wisdom … waiting on salvation.

And … if the oil is community spirit, solidarity composed of deep faithfulness – lessons and disciplines, practice, attentiveness – it is not so easily shared among the selfish-foolish.

“Love can’t be learned in a day,” says one of Cardenal’s conversation partners. “You learn love all your life, and you teach it to your children, or else you teach your children selfishness. And people that have grown up with a selfish mentality and that belong to a society that’s all selfish, how are they going to change suddenly?” (Olivia, Gospel in Solentiname).

Another surmises: “The ones who don’t get in are the exploiters, who want to keep us apart” (Felipe, Gospel in Solentiname).

Put positively, disciples gather and greet; are reconciled with God and one another; hear and share their common story; offer their needs and resources; remember Jesus and invoke his Spirit; and then share communion, before being sent out.

“In worship we receive a new identity, we are formed morally. By encountering God we learn how to be disciples. We learn to love by being loved; we learn to forgive by being forgiven; we learn generosity by being treated generously” (Duncan Forrester).

This Holy Spirit is fuel for nights spent waiting … long nights waiting on Wisdom (radiant and unfading) … waiting on salvation (the fullness of which is figured by a feast – the integration of divinity and humanity, the Word and the world).

So, let us stand to affirm the faith given to us:

We are a welcoming and diverse group of people
from South Sydney and beyond.

We are open to God at work in the world.
We seek to be a community of peace, justice,
compassion and faithfulness.

We look for the Holy Spirit in all things
and we strive to care for all creation.

With Christ, we dare to be honest in our lives
and to explore difficult questions together.
We are open to different points of view.

We share love, friendship, hospitality and hope
with each other and with our neighbours,
regardless of faith or sexuality.

We seek to overcome both exclusion and abuse.