Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily for the Second Sunday of Lent Year B 2021 at St John Vianney Parish, Doonside
Readings: Genesis 22:1-18; Romans 8:31-34; Mark 9:2-10
28 February 2021
Transformation through vulnerable trust
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Of all life experiences, a journey into chaos with no end in sight can be distressing. I remember I made one such journey around this time in 1975. We had to flee the advance of the communist troops and the eventual surrender of the South Vietnamese government. The roads were choked with thousands of people carrying their precious belongings. Some travelled in cars, others on bicycles and even on animal drawn carts. But most of us were running on foot. It was chaotic like all hell breaking loose. At one point, we came under heavy artillery and everybody dived for cover. We were a family of nine, including very young children at the time. As we huddled in the ditch by the roadside, amid the sound of shelling, adults screaming and children crying, we said our prayers and prepared for the worst.
Scriptures today also speak of the journey of faith that is filled with uncertainty, disruption and chaos. The pilgrims on the journey are challenged to overcome their fears, to deepen their trust and to emerge transformed by their experience.
In the first reading from Genesis, Abraham was subjected to an ultimate test of faith. He was asked to take his only child and sacrifice him on Mount Moriah. Abraham had been tested before. He had left his home country and everything he had inherited in order to become an itinerant without any form of security. He had abandoned his second home with Sarah in Sodom and found himself homeless again. In today’s episode, Abraham took Isaac on a journey into extreme trial and absolute vulnerability. He had to hand over to God not only the security of home, possessions and relationships. He had to empty himself totally: the long-expected child he cherished.
The journey, however, did not end in despair. Rather, like Elijah on Mount Horeb and Moses on Mount Sinai, Abraham received an epiphany. God revealed himself as loving, compassionate and faithful quite unlike other gods. The God of Israel was known affectionately from then on as the Lord or YHWH. As God renewed the covenant with Noah before, He renewed his covenant with Abraham and his descendants. They were to form an alternative community of the righteous which anticipates the “anawim” or faithful remnant in exile and the Christian community after Pentecost.
Abraham’s journey of transformation through faith is also the lesson Jesus teaches his disciples on Mount Tabor. The Transfiguration took place at a critical moment. On the way to Jerusalem, Jesus had taught them by words and examples what it meant to follow him. In contrast with the powers that be, he had opted for the road less travelled, the unpopular pathway of humility, service and selflessness. The disciples, however, were still transfixed on personal ambition, power and glory.
In the Transfiguration, they were given a moment of encouragement but also a clear message. “This is my Beloved Son, listen to him”. These words can be understood as an invitation to follow Jesus in his imminent suffering, passion and death. It is meant to give them new courage to walk the most difficult part of the journey that would ultimately prove to be the litmus test of Christian discipleship.
Our faith today is also being put to the test as that of Abraham and the disciples. Like them, we are challenged to overcome our fears and doubts. We are challenged to walk the journey of transformation by living out the demands of our pilgrim faith. This requires of us to have the courage to let go of the familiar and secure, the courage to launch into the deep, with everything that it entails. Like Abraham, we must learn the power of vulnerable trust in the midst of our trials and tribulations. The cross beckons us to move from fear to faith, from security to trust and from self-interest to solidarity and communion.
The coronavirus crisis has laid bare how the world around us is afflicted with fear, self-interest and exclusivism. We see this in the rise of xenophobia and the treatment of the marginalised in our own society. As we gather in faith, we commit ourselves to move from the default conventional wisdom to the wisdom of God, based on self-emptying love. This was what Abraham learned from his journey into chaos and what disciples also learned from Jesus’ downward mobility model of behaviour. Let us deepen our relationship with him, reaffirm our commitment and pledge our unwavering fidelity to his way of the cross. Should we find ourselves lying in the ditch, may we be comforted by the knowledge that “God is on our side” (Paul’s 2nd reading). Most of all, may we be inspired by the example of Abraham and of our Lord himself in turning our journey of despair to hope and darkness to life-altering experience.