Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily for the 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C 2019 at St John XXIII Parish, Glenwood-Stanhope Gradens
Readings: Is 6:1-8; 1Cor 15:3-8; Luke 5:1-11
9 February 2019
Called to go beyond shallow security to deep trust
Sisters and brothers,
One of the hardest things that we have to do is to abandon our cherished dreams and change our life’s direction as a result of unwanted and unforeseen circumstances. I am thinking of critical moments like a death in the family, a long-term separation or a divorce that shook the lives of those involved to the core.
A couple friend of mine had planned to retire from work together and do the things they enjoyed like travelling, looking after their grandchildren et cetera. Their hopes were dashed after the husband was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and died within a few short months. She was left devastated. If life is a journey, we as travellers must be prepared to alter course and begin again no matter how far we have travelled.
Many years ago, I made a journey to Australia as a boat person. I had to learn to adapt and begin again in a very different environment. But it did not stop there. I am constantly challenged to go beyond the familiar, secure and comfortable. This is why I have chosen my episcopal motto to be “launch into deeper waters” – the very words of Jesus in the Gospel today. I am and we all are challenged to grow beyond the self-centred security into the vulnerable trust of Christian discipleship.
Scriptures this 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time speak of the call to leave the shallow harbour of survival, security, familiarity, comfort, privilege and well-being that we are naturally oriented towards. Against the powerful and dominant force at work both in our individual and collective psyche, God’s Word provides the antidotes to self-interest and exclusion. It offers us an alternative mode of existence – one that is based on trust, generosity, companionship and shared life rather than personal gain and security.
In the first reading, we hear the story of how Isaiah experienced the call to be God’s messenger. King Uzziah’s death signals the beginning of the political instability in Israel and the subsequent invasion by the Assyrians. In such a time, one’s priority is often dictated by self-survival. It would take great courage to go out on a limb and speak the voice of integrity. Yet, this was precisely the call of Isaiah. In spite of his inadequacy, he was empowered to give himself in service of God’s Word. “Here I am Lord. Send me.” His trustful response has been the source of inspiration for countless generations of believers. It is our yes to God that opens us to new horizons and possibilities.
The Gospel of St Luke continues to portray Jesus as the boundary breaker and the enabler of human potential. In previous episodes, we have heard that his mission was aligned with God’s compassion for the vulnerable, including the blind, the deaf, the captive and the downtrodden. He was sent to bring outsiders inside God’s circle of love. No wonder Jesus was driven out of town by those who felt threatened by his radical and subversive message.
In today’s story, Jesus called his disciples to follow him after the miraculous catch of fish. Simon and his companions had been working hard all night long but to no avail. They were told to put their nets into deep water. It was not only a challenge to their method of fishing as professional fishermen. It was also a challenge to do things differently, to go beyond their set routines and established patterns of behaviour.
In the context of Jesus’s ministry to the marginalised and his challenge to the privileged, we can interpret the call of discipleship to leave self-centred security and to embrace solidarity with the vulnerable. We cannot be the disciple of Jesus and stay anchored in our safe habour. Discipleship is a journey that demands courage because it forces us to abandon security in favour of vulnerability, self-interest in favour of passion for justice and compassion for God’s poor.
In the world in which people prioritise personal well-being, security and wealth over the care of the less fortunate, the Christians are called to negotiate the hard road of fraternal concern, compassion and communion. This was what the early Christian community did. They abandoned the default position of self-interest and embraced radical solidarity. They shared their possessions and made sure that no one was left behind. They formed an intentional community of sharing in common with each other and looking after the most vulnerable.
“So I leave my boats behind, leaving them on familiar shores. Set my heart upon the deep. Follow you again my Lord.” These words of a popular Australian hymn remind us of God calling us to our full potential. And we can only achieve this by embracing the insecurity of vulnerable trust.
Paul’s exemplified this by abandoning his security system and accepting the gratuity of God’s grace. May the teaching and example of Jesus guide us as we endeavour to build relationships and communities that mirror the Reign of God. May our response to his daily invitation and the prompting of his Spirit be marked with generosity, trust and passion.