Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily for the 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B 2021 at St Bernadette’s Parish, Lalor Park
Readings: Job 38:1,8-11; 2 Cor 5:14-17; Mark 4:35-41
20 June 2021
Journeying and growing beyond the security of the status quo
I am a bit of a nostalgia tragic. I love watching my favourite old time movies and TV shows. In the last few weeks, I have been watching again the Brides of Christ that was premiered exactly 30 years ago. Being a religious, I can identify with the routines and dynamics, the struggles and challenges of life within the walls of the monastery. In one episode, the nuns have to respond to the changes brought about by the Second Vatican Council. They were asked to make their Gospel inspired life relevant and fit for purpose in the contemporary world. It was not an easy task. It is never easy to move away one’s secure, comfortable and insular world. Fundamentally, what the Church – guided by the Holy Spirit – asked of Catholics to do was to grow up into mature disciples, so that we could be better catalysts for God’s Kingdom in the world.
The film depicted the pain of the sisters who had to change their habits, lifestyles, attitudes and structures. But even more difficult for all Catholics then and now is the call of God to travel beyond our limited horizons and discern how we can be true missionary disciples and credible bearers of the Good News. Discipleship is a journey that demands a critical discernment of the status quo and an openness to the new ways of doing things that the Holy Spirit constantly asks of us.
This Sunday’s scripture challenges us not to settle into false certitudes and instead to let ourselves be led by the God of surprise, even to places well outside our comfort zones. The God that Jesus reveals is a dynamic and boundary breaking God. Instead of leaving us languish in a shrinking billabong, God leads us where the river flows. Instead of a safe harbour, God pushes us out to turbulent waters in order to expand the boundaries of our engagement. More importantly, this God empowers us to follow the pattern of life and behaviour of the Beloved in his constant journey of self-emptying and downward mobility.
In the first reading, we hear God’s response to Job in a series of rhetorical questions. Job was at the lowest ebb of his life. He had undergone every adversity imaginable: his possessions taken away; his children killed; his social status reduced to nothing; his wife and his best friends derided him. As he sits on a dung heap, his wife and his best friends join the chorus of judging him through the lense of the old reward and punishment binary.
Today’s episode is God’s turn to speak. He does not address Job’s predicament directly. Job already shows great maturity by rejecting the simplistic idea that success is the ultimate measure of one’s faith. We could say that the Book of Job is an indictment of the Gospel of prosperity that is still rampant in many churches across all Christian denominations. God who speaks from the tempest refutes such caricatures and distortions. Faith can never be equated with health and wealth. God is far greater than what human beings try to reduce him to. Only with humility can we begin to appreciate the grandeur and greatness of God.
The Gospel tells us about a story of Jesus and his disciples crossing over to the other side of the sea. The story bears surprising parallels to the Jonah story in the Old Testament. In both accounts, there are the storm, the fear on the part of those on board and the main character who is asleep through it all. Even more crucial is the fact that they manifest the God who challenges the people to move beyond their familiar worlds. In Jonah’s case, it was to Nineveh, which was the capital of Israel’s archenemy, the Babylonian Empire. In the disciples’ case, it was Jesus who accompanied them on their missionary journey outside their safe world.
In the context of the early Church moving beyond its Jewish origins, the story aims at something much more profound than the recognition of Jesus’ miraculous powers. It is a summons to a greater faith as the small group of homogeneous people evolved into a universal reality, with all the complexities that it brought. Jesus’ words to the frightened disciples are a reminder to us to trust in his power and to meet the challenges of the world we have been ushered into.
Life can be unsettling as the sisters in the Brides of Christ demonstrate. The call of God to us more often than not challenges us not to cling our secure, comfortable and insular world. The Book of Job makes a powerful case for righteous suffering. This small voice grows to a crescendo in the narrative of the Suffering Messiah in Mark. In the life of Jesus, the call to faith is essentially the call to walk the path of downward mobility and self-emptying. For the Church today, Pope Francis has refreshed this journey in terms of the movement from clericalism to service, from self-reference to openness, from splendour to simplicity, from triumphalism to humility, from a siege mentality to engagement with the world.
May the love of Christ impel us to go forward, ready to respond to the signs of the times and be the catalysts for God’s Kingdom in the world.