Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily for the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B 2018, St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta
Readings: Isaiah 53:10-11; Hebrews 4:14-16; Mark 10:35-45
21 October 2018
The call to embrace Jesus’s path of vulnerable trust
I think we are living in a very grace-filled moment in history, even if it is also full of uncertainty and chaos. Pope Francis has been the embodiment of the Church that embraces the risk of couragious discipleship. He has challenged us to do what Jesus did: to leave our security, to accompany the most vulnerable, to minister at the liminal and precarious places of extreme human vulnerability, to empower all people to live life more fully.The pope wants us to go to the margins, to stay close to those on the edges of life and to be that Church which is bruised, hurt and soiled because it has been out on the streets and immersed in the coalface realities.
The Word of God this Sunday reminds us of the essence of Christian life and discipleship, which is bound up with vulnerability and powerlessness. To be a true believer is to embrace an alternative mode of existence radically different from the default position of self-interest, the survival-oriented behaviour and the worldly pursuit of security, power and glory. Ultimately, it boils down to our capacity to suffer with others, to have a divine pathos and to act in solidarity with the poor, the vulnerable and the powerless.
In the first reading, Isaiah speaks to his long suffering people in a way that runs contrary to popular hopes and expectations. In what is known as the Song of the Suffering Servant, the prophet goes against the grain by describing the vulnerability and powerlessness of the expected Messiah. Instead of acting like a super-hero against the enemies of the people, he would be equipped with the weapon of humility, integrity and justice. He would be “crushed with anguish and by his sufferings would justify many”. He would restore Israel not through domination and violence but through love, compassion and justice.
This was not a kind of Messiah that the oppressed and humiliated people had hoped for. It went against the pride of a chosen race who still relished the memories of greatness in the Davidic monarchy, the unrivalled temple, the priesthood, the festivals etc. Yet Isaiah persisted in speaking a prophecy of love over hatred, gentleness over violence, humility over arrogance and vulnerability over force. Furthermore, he challenged the people to resist the imperial model of power, security and retaliation. In exile, they learned to worship the God who chose the way of compassion, gentleness, vulnerability and powerlessness.
This is also the kind of God Jesus revealed in his own life and ministry. Last Sunday’s Gospel, he invited the rich young man toexperience an alternative mode of existence –one that is based on trust and shared life rather than accumulation and personal security. In today’s episode, he ups the ante. He urges his disciples to enact vulnerability and powerlessness not merely in what they have but in who they are. He instructs them: “If anyone wants to become great among you must be your servant, and anyone who wants to be first among you must be slave to all.” Talk about turning the world’s value system on its head! God’s way, in effect is the reversal of the imperial model of self-interest, power and glory. St Paul would speak powerfully and poetically about the self-emptying journey of Christ in his letter to the Philippians. “He emptied himself, taking on the form of a servant. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”To be his follower is to walk the path of vulnerable trust that Jesus walked. It was the downward journey that culminated on Calvary. Paradoxically, it was the way of divine transformation.
Brothers and sisters,
Today, we are challenged to embrace the path of authentic Christian discipleship based on the teaching and example of Christ. The sexual abuse crisis has highlighted a Church culture that is far from the vulnerability and powerlessness that Isaiah prophesied and Jesus enacted. Instead of empathy for the vulnerable, the Church leaders have been shown to care more for our status of lordship and our penchant for privileges. With humility and contrition, we have to admit that we have not lived up to the call to be the servant in the model of the Suffering Servant of God. We cannot regain our moral credibility without first reclaimingthe innocence and powerlessness of Jesus, and making it the cornerstone of all that we do and all that we are.
God’s Word proclaims unequivocally that the Messiah did not follow the script of the empire. He came as a poor and humble servant in order to give his life as a ransom for others. Let us pray that we may embrace his way of compassion, gentleness, vulnerability and powerlessness. May we, as a community of disciples, learn to be humble servants of one another. May we follow the example of Christ by living out a courageous discipleship in silent hope, in vulnerable trust, in humble service and self-emptyinglove especially during this time of the great cleansing and renewal in our Church.