Homily by Archbishop Charles J. Scicluna
St Anthony’s Parish Church, Kraainem, Belgium
15 September 2019
I would like to offer some brief snippets on this extraordinary reading that Fr Patrick has proclaimed to us. It is chapter 15 from the Gospel of Luke and it is an extraordinary masterpiece of narrative and we have three stories.
For Jesus it is not about condemning the sinner but understanding that the sinner is somebody who is lost and needs to be found.
The Lord wants to make a very important point. He wants to convince the Pharisees that the God they believe in has a different attitude to sinners and to tax collectors. There were complaining: “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them” (Lk 15:3). They were scandalised because Jesus was entering into communion, friendship with people who were excluded from the normal circles of the self-righteous. And he brings them three stories: the shepherd who goes out to find his lost sheep, the woman who tries to find the lost drachma – the lost coin, and the father who keeps waiting for the son who needed to go away.
One the things that is common in all these three narratives is the fact that for Jesus it is not about condemning the sinner but understanding that the sinner is somebody who is lost and needs to be found. It is almost as if the fact that we are sinners makes God do something about it. In fact he did by sending Jesus his only begotten son to find us out and embrace us with his mercy.
One thing that strikes me is the fact that every one of these three stories Jesus says ends with a big party: let’s do a celebration. So it’s not a question of sitting on a tribunal and giving out a sentence or punishment, it is about embracing a person who was lost and putting up a party to say: ‘I have found you, we have found each other’. That is what reconciliation means. That is what Jesus wants to teach the Pharisees. He has great respect for their fidelity and they are represented in the third narrative by the elder brother.
The elder brother who also cannot understand his father. He has always been loyal to his father and has done what his father wanted him to do; he cannot understand why the father would forgive the younger son who wanted the father dead. Why do we know this? Because at the beginning of the third story the younger brother tells the father: “I would like to have the part of the inheritance and my share of the estate” (Lk 15:11). Now we know that you inherit somebody when he is dead and so in this request he underlines messages to the father: ‘I would rather like you dead, I want to inherit you’. And the father does the division before he is dead and the elder brother, who remains at home, is probably very angry at this attitude of the younger son.
But one of the things the father tells the elder son that remains with him is when the father goes out of the home a second time to fetch the elder son. He goes out to meet and embrace and starts a big celebration when the younger son comes back.
“He was dead but he is now back to us, he was lost, he is found”. The father goes out a second time to greet the loyal son who needs to learn an important lesson. “My son, you are with me always and all I have is yours but it was only right we should celebrate and rejoice because your brother here was dead and has come to life, he was lost and is found” (Lk 15:32).
What an extraordinary thing to be able to realise that we are also being called to become evidence, for the greatest evidence of being inexhaustible patience of Jesus Christ
Now the father is telling the elder brother: ‘Look, everything is yours, I would like to give you my heart, the way I see things’. It’s not the judgemental way, it’s the fact that we should rejoice when people come back to life, come back to the family. And that is something that you need to learn because you are the one that has everything I have, but there’s something else you need to have, my own heart’. And that is what Jesus was trying to tell the Pharisees: you may be right, you are perfect in your external observance of the law but that doesn’t give you the right to judge anyone. You need to drop my own heart, the heart of God.
When I heard the reader proclaiming the Second Reading from Paul to Timothy, today I was very moved by this autobiographical note of the apostle of the Gentiles: “I myself am the greatest of sinners and if mercy has been shown to me, it is because Jesus Christ meant to make me the greatest evidence of his inexhaustible patience for all the other people” (1Tim 1:15-16). What a beautiful remark, what an extraordinary thing to be able to realise that we are also being called to become evidence, for the greatest evidence of being inexhaustible patience of Jesus Christ. And as we look at our lives, we realise that we are evidence of the inexhaustible patience of the Lord and we have every reason today, on the Lord’s day, to rejoice. Thank you Jesus for being so patient with us, thank you Lord for your infinite and everlasting mercy.
✠ Charles J. Scicluna
Archbishop of Malta
Reading I: Exodus 32:7-11.13-14
Reading II: 1Timothy 1:12-17
Gospel: Luke 15:1-32
Photos: Ray Attard