Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily for the Fifth Sunday of Lent, Year C 2022
Readings: Isaiah 43:16-21; Philippians 3:8-14; John 8:1-11
Learning to discern a new future in the midst of chaos
Chaos, disruption and the call to change our modus operandi seem to have characterised the dramas of the last few years. The protracted pandemic, the destructive weather events, the unprovoked invasion of Ukraine … These crises are symptoms of a deeper malaise, which requires not simply political, economic or medical intervention. Rather, as Pope Francis pointed out, humanity needs the courage to change direction.
These crises also have significance for the way we are being Church moving forward. While we yearn for familiarity and security, we must not allow ourselves to be unmoved by the signs of the times. We must not prefer certitude to the hard task of deep listening, discerning and aligning with the divine innovation. Like Israel of old, we must seek fresh ways of embodying God’s redeeming, forgiving and empowering love. The Church must not lose sight of the invitation to embark on a new adventure with God that is part of our DNA as a paschal people.
The Word of God on this fifth Sunday in Lent speaks of God’s intent to renew and revitalise the chosen people through upheaval, chaos and diminishment. The community of believers must engage with changes and manifest itself as the vital sign of God’s enduring love for the world.
In the first reading, Isaiah offers a fresh and hopeful vision to his people during the exile. He proclaims God’s words of comfort and guidance: “No need to think about what was done before. Look, I am doing something new”. As God liberated them from the Pharaoh of Egypt, he will also set them free from the Pharaoh of Persia. But this new exodus from Babylon to Judea will not be simply a return to the golden days of the past.
For Isaiah, the future of God’s chosen people does not lie in the old things like the temple, priesthood, festivals, land, monarchy etc… which had been taken away from them. Rather, it is to become an alternative society under God’s rule, a community of hospitality, compassion, justice and neighbourliness.
Instead of dreaming of past glories when Israel enjoyed a powerful monarchy and a magnificent temple, the Israelites are called to dream new dreams. Using poetic metaphors, such as wolves lying with lambs or mountains being laid low, Isaiah calls them to change and conversion. This is a call to build a new society based not on the imperial paradigm of dominion but the new model of communion and the care economy for the vulnerable. Martin Luther King Jr recast this prophetic dream in terms of full civil rights and equal citizenship for Black Americans.
Pope Francis often calls us to be receptive to the newness of the Spirit and not to be smothered by the ashes of fear and by the preoccupation with the status quo. He encourages Catholics to assume always the Spirit of the great explorers…not frightened by borders and of storms. He challenges us to adopt a new way of being Church which requires a new culture of participation, agency and discipleship.
In the Gospel story, Jesus is confronted with the woman caught in adultery and the crowd who demands retribution and mob justice. He challenges those ready to throw stones at the woman to look inside their own hearts. “If there is one of you who has not sinned, let him be the first to throw a stone at her”. Yet as he shines a spotlight on their conscience, Jesus is also one with the vulnerable. He stands with the woman and defends her dignity. He ultimately empowers her to live a new life with the power of God’s love, mercy and forgiveness.
Jesus doesn’t condemn the sinful woman, but he also doesn’t condemn her accusers. By pointing out that they, no less than the woman, were sinners, he was inviting them to a new way of thinking, and of relating to others. He was calling them to a metanoia that recognizes common humanity, rather than asserting their moral superiority over others.
Brothers and sisters,
The challenge for us today is to follow the example of our ancestors in faith and even more so to be inspired by the example of Jesus. It is with the transforming power of God that we seek to renew and to be the Church we are meant to be. Even as we undergo the process of loss and diminishment, let us not lose sight of the call to embody the Gospel of love, mercy and forgiveness. As St Paul reminds us, we can accept the loss of everything as long as our witness for the self-emptying Christ is uncompromised and his light shines forth in us.
Lent is the time when we endeavour to live more intensely and purposefully the call to empty ourselves of all that prevent us from growing fully in Christ. The crisis we face is a time of grace insofar as it leads us to deepen our core values. Let us pray that we may grow through chaos and uncertainty in order to be more aligned with God’s purpose. May we become the model community where fraternity, solidarity, harmony and the flourishing of the good creation are the hallmarks of the divine plan.