Third Sunday of Lent

Homily of Fr Cao Nguyen

Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground.

Most Asian countries have the tradition of walking into family homes and temples bare footed, leaving shoes and thongs outside the door. In some countries such as India, Thailand, Myanmar, Korea and Japan, this practice means that they floor will be kept clean. They also believe it is good health practice to be barefooted. Many times, when I visit some families, I observe that the floor is often kept clean from time to time during a day, either the mother or a daughter sweeps it. They don’t judge or blame anyone for making the floor dirty or leaving rubbish on it. They just sweep it.

 Some of them regard their home’s floor as sacred, loving and healthy, particularly the floor at any temple, whether the temple is a Hindu or Buddhist and or Muslim. Keeping the floor clean means to pay respect to the owner of the house, especially the deity, the Buddha and the gods they believe in. The floor is the holy ground, which must be kept clean.

In the first reading, YHWH tells Moses: Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground . . . even though it’s at the foot of mount Horeb in the desert. At this holy ground where Moses sees the invisible God in the visible fire that doesn’t consume the bush. At this holy ground, he hears God’s call and though hesitant he takes the risk to follow God’s commands. At this holy ground, God calls him to lead his people out of Egypt into the unknown – across the desert to the Promised Land. A covenant is made between God and not only Moses but also His people Israel.

So, the long journey begins. Moses leads his people, not merely out of Egypt, but also out of slavery. Because they might have been free of chains, but they were still slaves in heart, slaves in mind and slaves in attitudes.

In the process, God makes them into a people, a people who has unity, a people who recognise their dignity, a people who recognise

  •  that they are always worth walking on holy ground; and

  • that the most important thing that they had to learn is to learn reverence before God, and that God is everywhere, and

  • that the dirt under their feet is sacred because God’s presence is there,

  • and that to learn recognising God’s presence in their own people, in their own soul and the people whom they meet along the way.

God calls Moses and through him his people Israel who is an exquisite different kind of people, a people who feel free and are given free choices, even if they misuse their choices. But they are the children of God and they are walking towards the great destiny that God has selected for them as His own people.

We are called to be children of God, especially to be Jesus Disciples, one thing is most clear that we are on holy ground, whether we are in this church, or at our own home, or at a special place God is there and everywhere. And if God is everywhere, it means everywhere is holy ground.

If God is one with His people, He is also one with all the people in the world; for all that He has created He loves as His very own. He loves deeply all the people that He has created and given them the power to love or to refuse to love. They must make their own choice in daily life.  This is the reason that during Lent God through the Church calls us to make our own choice: to keep our own personal holy ground clean or to leave it dirty, to be like the mother or a daughter of the family to weep the dirt on the floor so as to constantly keep it clean without judgement or blame. It is not “because they suffered in this way they were greater sinners than all others or they were more guilty than everyone else. . .” as we heard Jesus says in the Gospel today, and like St Paul in the second reading says: “Do not grumble as some of them did, and suffered death by the destroyer.”

Certainly, some of God’s children may feel fear to face the reality of sins or wrong doings. However, this fear is not destroying us, but it is a grace from God. It’s “God fearing” which means the wonder that God would descend upon us and take up our lives and walk with us through our own world, touching it and healing it. Surely, with faith, we know who Jesus is, the One who gives us wonder, the One lets us understand the sacredness of the world and the people in it, the One who constantly reminds us that we are on the holy ground. So, no matter how much we stain it, and no matter how much we refuse to accept it, we know that the only response is the response of Jesus and the response of the Father who said He loved this world so much that He gave His Only Son who would die to heal it, to clean it, to save it and to bring it home.

Lent is a very special time. It’s the beginning of Autumn time. The days are shortening now. It is the sign that Autumn is here. The rain is coming to clean the ground, to water, and to give life.

Let us look at our own holy ground, our own soul and ask ourselves: “What can I do as children of God during this season with love, that I may become more and more aware of God’s presence and grace everywhere?”