Books of the Bible Index of Homilies
Matthew Mark Luke John The Acts Romans 1 Corinthians 2 Corinthians Galatians Ephesians Philippians Colossians 1 Thessalonians 2 Thessalonians 1 Timothy 2 Timothy Titus Philemon Hebrews James 1 Peter 2 Peter 1 John 2 John 3 John Jude Revelation Genesis Exodus Leviticus Numbers Deuteronomy Joshua Judges Ruth 1 Samuel 2 Samuel 1 Kings 2 Kings 1 Chronicles 2 Chronicles Ezra Nehemiah Tobit Judith Esther 1 Maccabees 2 Maccabees Job Psalms Proverbs Ecclesiastes The Song of Songs The Book of Wisdom Sirach Isaiah Jeremiah Lamentations Baruch Ezekiel Daniel Hosea Joel Amos Obadiah Jonah Micah Nahum Habakkuk Zephaniah Haggai Zechariah Malachi
Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good morning!
In the Liturgy today we read chapter 15 of the Gospel of Luke, which contains three parables of mercy: the lost sheep, the lost coin, and then the longest of them, characteristic of St Luke, the parable of the father of two sons, the “prodigal” son and the son who believes he is “righteous”, who believes he is saintly. All three of these parables speak of the joy of God. God is joyful. This is interesting: God is joyful! And what is the joy of God? The joy of God is forgiving, the joy of God is forgiving! The joy of a shepherd who finds his little lamb; the joy of a woman who finds her coin; it is the joy of a father welcoming home the son who was lost, who was as though dead and has come back to life, who has come home. Here is the entire Gospel! Here! The whole Gospel, all of Christianity, is here! But make sure that it is not sentiment, it is not being a “do-gooder”! On the contrary, mercy is the true force that can save man and the world from the “cancer” that is sin, moral evil, spiritual evil. Only love fills the void, the negative chasms that evil opens in hearts and in history. Only love can do this, and this is God’s joy!
Jesus is all mercy, Jesus is all love: he is God made man. Each of us, each one of us, is that little lost lamb, the coin that was mislaid; each one of us is that son who has squandered his freedom on false idols, illusions of happiness, and has lost everything. But God does not forget us, the Father never abandons us. He is a patient father, always waiting for us! He respects our freedom, but he remains faithful forever. And when we come back to him, he welcomes us like children into his house, for he never ceases, not for one instant, to wait for us with love. And his heart rejoices over every child who returns. He is celebrating because he is joy. God has this joy, when one of us sinners goes to him and asks his forgiveness.
What is the danger? It is that we presume we are righteous and judge others. We also judge God, because we think that he should punish sinners, condemn them to death, instead of forgiving. So ‘yes’ then we risk staying outside the Father’s house! Like the older brother in the parable, who rather than being content that his brother has returned, grows angry with the father who welcomes him and celebrates. If in our heart there is no mercy, no joy of forgiveness, we are not in communion with God, even if we observe all of his precepts, for it is love that saves, not the practice of precepts alone. It is love of God and neighbour that brings fulfilment to all the Commandments. And this is the love of God, his joy: forgiveness. He waits for us always! Maybe someone has some heaviness in his heart: “But, I did this, I did that...”. He expects you! He is your father: he waits for you always!
If we live according to the law “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth”, we will never escape from the spiral of evil. The evil one is clever, and deludes us into thinking that with our human justice we can save ourselves and save the world! In reality, only the justice of God can save us! And the justice of God is revealed in the Cross: the Cross is the judgement of God on us all and on this world. But how does God judge us? By giving his life for us! Here is the supreme act of justice that defeated the prince of this world once and for all; and this supreme act of justice is the supreme act of mercy. Jesus calls us all to follow this path: “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful” (Lk 6:36). I now ask of you one thing. In silence, let's all think... everyone think of a person with whom we are annoyed, with whom we are angry, someone we do not like. Let us think of that person and in silence, at this moment, let us pray for this person and let us become merciful with this person. [silent prayer].
Let us now invoke the intercession of Mary, Mother of Mercy.
The scribes and the Pharisees who studied Jesus' actions were scandalised by the things that Jesus did and murmured against him: “This man is dangerous!” What scandalised them most was the fact that “Jesus ate with publicans and sinners, that he talked with them”. Hence their reaction: “this man offends God, he desecrates the ministry of the prophet which is a sacred ministry” and “he desecrates it in order to draw close to these people”.
The music of their murmuring is the music of hypocrisy, and “Jesus responds to this murmuring hypocrisy with a parable” in which the words “joy and rejoicing” recur four times.
Practically speaking, it is as though Jesus were saying to the scribes and Pharisees: “you are scandalised, but my Father rejoices”. In fact, this is the deepest message of the parable: God's joy. He is a God “who does not like to lose what is his, and in order not to lose it, he goes out from himself, and seeks out” the lost. He is a God “who searches for all those who are far from him,” like the shepherd recounted in St Luke's Gospel who “goes in search of the lost sheep”.
Our God is a God who searches. His work is to search: to search and seek out the lost in order to invite them back. For “God cannot abide losing what is his; thus on Holy Thursday Jesus would pray ‘that none of those whom thou hast given me may be lost’”.
Indeed, God “has a certain weakness of love for those who are furthest away, who are lost. He goes in search of them. And how does he search? He searches to the very end. Like the shepherd who journeys into the darkness looking for his lost sheep until he finds it” or “like the woman who, when she loses her coin, lights a lamp, sweeps the house and seeks diligently until she finds it”. God, seeks out the lost because he thinks: “I will not lose this son, he is mine! And I don’t want to lose him!”.
However, God’s work does not consist only in seeking out the lost. “When he finds us, when he has found the lost sheep” he neither sets it aside nor does he ask us: “Why did you get lost? Why did you fall?”. Rather, he restores what was lost to its proper place. And when this happens “it is God who rejoices. God rejoices not in the death of the sinner but rather that he be restored to life.
“He receives sinners and eats with them”. We just heard this in the Gospel reading (Lk 15:2). They are the words muttered by some of the Pharisees and scribes, doctors of the law, who were greatly upset and scandalized by the way Jesus was behaving.
With those words, they tried to discredit and dismiss Jesus in the eyes of everyone. But all they managed to do was point out one of his most ordinary, most distinctive, most beautiful ways of relating to others: “He receives sinners and eats with them”. Now we are all sinners, all of us, and for that reason Jesus receives with care all of us who are here, and if anyone does not feel that they are sinners – among all of us who are here – they should know that Jesus is not going to receive them, and they would miss out on the best part.
Jesus is not afraid to approach those who, for countless reasons, were the object of social hatred, like the publicans – we know that tax collectors grew rich by exploiting their own people and they caused great resentment –or those on the receiving end of social hatred because they had made an error in their lives, because of their errors and mistakes, some fault, and now they were called sinners. Jesus does this because he knows that in heaven there is more joy for a single one of those who make mistakes, for a single converted sinner, than for ninety-nine righteous people who remain good (Lk 15:7).
And whereas these people were content to grumble or complain because Jesus was meeting people who were marked by some kind of social error, some sin, and closed the doors on conversion, on dialogue with him – Jesus approaches and engages, Jesus puts his reputation at risk. He asks us, as he always does, to lift our eyes to a horizon that can renew our life, that can renew our history. All of us, all have a horizon. All of us. Someone may say: “I do not have one”. Open the window and you will find it, open the window of love which is Jesus and you will find him. We all have a horizon. They are two very different, contrasting approaches, Jesus’ one, and that of the doctors of the law. A sterile, fruitless approach – that of complaining and gossip, the person who is always speaking badly about others and is self-righteous – and another, one that invites us to change and to conversion, which is the Lord’s approach, a new life as you have just said a short while ago [turning to the young man who gave testimony].
The approach of complaining and of gossip
Now this is not something from a long time ago, it is current. Many people do not tolerate this attitude of Jesus; they don’t like it. First by complaining under their breath and then by shouting, they make known their displeasure, seeking to discredit Jesus’ way of acting and that of all those who are with him. They do not accept and they reject this option of drawing near to others and giving them another chance. These people condemn once and for all, they discredit once and for all and forget that in God’s eyes they are disqualified and need tenderness, need love and understanding, but do not wish to accept it. Where people’s lives are concerned, it seems easier to attach signs and labels that petrify and stigmatize not only people’s past but also their present and future. We put labels on people: “this one is like that”, “this one did that thing, and that’s it”, and he has to bear this for the rest of his days. That’s how people are who mutter – the gossips – they are like this. And labels ultimately serve only to divide: good people over here, and bad ones over there; the righteous over here and sinners over there. And this Jesus does not accept; this is the culture of the adjective; we delight in “adjectivizing” people, it gives us delight: “What is your name? My name is ‘good’”. No, that is an adjective. “What is your name?” Go to the person’s name: Who are you? What do you do? What dreams do you have? What does your heart feel? Gossips are not interested in this; they are quickly looking for a label to knock someone down off their pedestal. The culture of the adjective which discredits people. Think about that so as not to fall into what society so easily offers us.
This attitude spoils everything, because it erects an invisible wall that makes people think that, if we marginalize, separate and isolate others, all our problems will magically be solved. When a society or community allows this, and does nothing more than complain, gossip and backbite, it enters into a vicious circle of division, blame and condemnation. Strange that these people who do not accept Jesus, and what Jesus is teaching us, are people who are always on bad terms with each other, among those who call themselves righteous. And what’s more, it is an attitude of discrimination and exclusion, of confrontation leading people to say irresponsibly, like Caiaphas: “It is better that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation should not perish” (Jn 11:50). Better that they should all be kept over there, so that they will not give trouble; we want to live in peace. This is hard-hearted, and Jesus had to confront this; and we are also confronted with this today. Normally the thread is cut at the thinnest part: that of the poor and the defenceless. And it is they who suffer the most from this social disapproval that does allow them to raise themselves up.
How painful it is to see a society concentrate its energies more on complaining and backbiting than on fighting tirelessly to create opportunities and change.
The approach of conversion: the other approach
The Gospel, on the other hand, is completely characterized by this other approach, which is nothing more or less than that of God’s own heart. God never chases you away, God never chases anyone away; God says to you: “Come”. God waits for you and embraces you, and if you do not know the way, he is going to show you, as this shepherd did with the sheep. The other approach, however, excludes. The Lord wants to celebrate when he sees his children returning home (Lk 15:11-31). And Jesus testified to this by showing to the very end the merciful love of the Father. We have a Father – you said it yourself – I enjoyed your testimony: we have a Father. I have a Father who loves me, a beautiful thing. A love, Jesus’ love, that has no time for complaining, but seeks to break the circle of useless, needless, cold and sterile criticism. “I give you thanks, Lord – said that doctor of the law – that I am not like that one, I am not like him. The ones who believe they have a soul ten times purified in the illusion of a sterile life that is no good for anything. I once heard a country farmer saying something that struck me: “What is the purest water? Yes, distilled water”, he said; “You know, Father, that when I drink it, it has no flavour at all”. This is how life is for those who criticize and gossip and separate themselves from others: they feel so pure, so sterile, that they have no flavour at all; they are incapable of inviting someone; they live to take care of themselves, to have cosmetic surgery done on their souls and not to hold out their hand to others and help them to grow, which is what Jesus does; he accepts the complexity of life and of every situation. The love of Jesus, the love of God, the love of God our Father – as you said to us – is a love that initiates a process capable of inventing ways, offering means for integration and transformation, healing, forgiveness and salvation. By eating with tax collectors and sinners, Jesus shatters the mentality that separates, that excludes, that isolates, that falsely separates “the good and the bad”. He does not do this by decree, or simply with good intentions, or with slogans or sentimentality. How does Jesus do it? By creating bonds, relationships capable of enabling new processes; investing in and celebrating every possible step forward. That’s why Jesus does not say to Matthew when he converts – you will see it in the Gospel: “Well, this is good, I congratulate you, come with me”. No, he says to him: “Let us celebrate in your home”, and he invites all his friends, who with Matthew had been condemned by the society, to celebrate. The gossipmonger, the one who separates, does not know how to celebrate because he has an embittered heart.
Creating relationships, celebrating. This is what Jesus does, and that way he breaks with another form of complaining, one even harder to detect, one that “stifles dreams” because it keeps whispering: “you can’t do it, you can’t do it”. How many times you have heard this: “you can’t do it”. Watch out! This is like a woodworm that eats you from the inside out. Watch out when you feel “you can’t do it”, give yourself a slap: “Yes, I can and I will show you”. The whisper, the interior whisper that haunts those who repent of their sin and acknowledge their mistakes, but don’t think that they can change. And this happens when they think that those who are born publicans will always die publicans; and that is not true. The Gospel tell us quite the opposite. Eleven of the twelve disciples were bad sinners, because they committed the worst sin: they abandoned their Master, others disowned him, others ran far away. The Apostles betrayed him, and Jesus went to look for them one by one, and they are the ones who changed the whole world. It did not occur to any of them to say: “you can’t do it”, because having seen Jesus’ love after their betrayal, “I am going to be able to do it, because you give me the strength”. Watch out for the “you-can’t-do-it” woodworm, be very careful.
Friends, each of us is much more than our labels which people attach to us; each is much more than the adjectives that they want to give us, each is much more than the condemnation foisted on us. And that is what Jesus teaches us and asks us to believe. Jesus’ approach challenges us to ask and seek help when setting out on the path of improvement. There are times when complaining seems to have the upper hand, but don’t believe it, don’t listen to it. Seek out and listen to the voices that encourage you to look ahead, not those that pull you down. Listen to the voices that open the window for you and let you see the horizon: “Yes, but it’s far off”. “But you can do it. Focus on it carefully and you will be able to do it”. And every time the woodworm comes with “you can’t do it”, answer it from within: “I can do it”, and focus on the horizon.
The joy and hope of every Christian – of all of us, and the Pope too – comes from having experienced this approach of God, who looks at us and says, “You are part of my family and I cannot leave you at the mercy of the elements”; this is what God says to each one of us, because God is Father – you said it yourself: “You are part of my family and I am not going to leave you to the mercy of the elements, I am not going to leave you lying in the ditch, no, I cannot lose you along the way – God says to us, to each of us, by name and surname – I am here at your side”. Here? Yes, Lord. It is that feeling that you, Luis, described at those times when it seemed it was all over, yet something said: “No! It is not all over”, because you have a bigger purpose that lets you see that God our Father is always with us. He gives us people with whom we can walk, people to help us achieve new goals.
So Jesus turns complaining into celebration, and tells us: “Rejoice with me, we are going to celebrate!” In the parable of the prodigal son – I like a translation I found once – it says that the father said, when he saw his son who had returned home: “We are going to celebrate”, and then the feast began. And one translation said: “And then the dance began”. The joy, the joy with which God receives us, with the Father’s embrace; the dance began.
Brothers and sisters: You are part of the family; you have a lot to share with others. Help us to discern how best to live and to accompany one another along the path of change that we, as a family, all need.
A society grows sick when it is unable to celebrate change in its sons and daughters. A community grows sick when it lives off relentless, negative and heartless complaining, gossip. But a society is fruitful when it is able to generate processes of inclusion and integration, of caring and trying to create opportunities and alternatives that can offer new possibilities to the young, to build a future through community, education and employment. Such a community is healthy. Even though it may feel the frustration of not knowing how to do so, it does not give up, it keeps trying. We all have to help each other to learn, as a community, to find these ways, to try again and again. It is a covenant that we have to encourage one another to keep: you, young men and women, those responsible for your custody and the authorities of the Centre and the Ministry, and all your families, as well as your pastoral assistants. Keep fighting, all of you – but not among yourselves, please –fighting for what? – to seek and find the paths of integration and transformation. And this the Lord blesses, this the Lord sustains and this the Lord accompanies.
Shortly we will continue with the penitential service, where we will all be able to experience the Lord’s gaze, which never looks at adjectives, but looks at a name, looks into our eyes, looks at our heart; he does not look at labels and condemnation, but at his sons and daughters. That is God’s approach, his way of seeing things, which rejects exclusion and gives us the strength to build the covenants needed to help us all to reject complaining: those fraternal covenants that enable our lives to be a constant invitation to the joy of salvation, to the joy of keeping a horizon open before us, to the joy of the son’s feast. Let us go this way. Thank you.
Today's Gospel (Luke 15:1-32) begins with some criticizing Jesus, seeing him in the company of tax collectors and sinners, and they say with disdain: "He welcomes sinners and eats with them" (v. 2). This phrase actually turns out to be a wonderful announcement. Jesus welcomes sinners and eats with them. This is what happens to us, in every Mass, in every church: Jesus is happy to welcome us to his table, where he offers himself for us. It is the phrase that we could write on the doors of our churches: "Here Jesus welcomes sinners and invites them to his table." And the Lord, responding to those who criticized him, recounts three parables, three beautiful parables, which show his preference for those who feel distant from him. Today it would be nice for each of you to take the Gospel, the Gospel of Luke, chapter 15, and read the three parables. They're beautiful.
In the first parable, he says, "Which one of you, if you have a hundred sheep and loses one, does not leave the ninety-nine in the desert and go in search of the lost one?" (v. 4) Which one of you? A sensible person does not: he makes two calculations and sacrifices one to keep the ninety-nine. God, on the other hand, does not resign himself, for him you are at the centre of his heart, you who do not yet know the beauty of his love, you who have not yet welcomed Jesus to the centre of your life, you who cannot overcome your sin, you who perhaps because of the bad things that have happened in your life, you do not believe in love.
In the second parable, you are that little coin that the Lord does not resign himself to losing and he searches relentlessly: He wants to tell you that you are precious in his eyes, that you are unique. No one can replace you in God's heart. You have a place, it is you, and no one can replace you; and even me, no one can replace me in God's heart.
And in the third parable God is a father who awaits the return of the prodigal son: God always waits for us, he does not get tired, he does not lose heart. Because it is us, each of us is that reunited son, that rediscovered coin, that caressed sheep that he puts back on his shoulder. He waits every day for us to notice his love. And you say, "But I've done many horrible things, I've done too many!" Don't be afraid: God loves you, loves you as you are and knows that only his love can change your life.
But this infinite love of God for us sinners, which is the heart of the Gospel, can be rejected. That's what the eldest son of the parable does. He does not understand love at that moment and has in his mind a master other than a father. It can also happen to us: when we believe in a more rigorous than merciful God, a God who defeats evil with power rather than with forgiveness. It is not like that, God saves with love, not by force; He proposes and does not impose himself. But the eldest son, who does not accept his father's mercy, closes himself, makes a worse mistake: he believes he is right, he believes he has been betrayed and judges everything on the basis of his thought of justice. So he gets angry with his brother and reproaches his father: "You have killed the fat calf now that your son is back" (cf. v. 30). This son of yours: he doesn't call him my brother, but your son. He feels like an only child. We also make mistakes when we believe ourselves to be right, when we think that the bad ones are the others. Let us not believe ourselves to be good, because alone, without the help of God who is good, we do not know how to overcome evil. Today, don't forget, take the gospel, and read Luke's three parables, chapter 15. It will do you good, it will be healthy for you.
How do we defeat evil? By accepting God's forgiveness and the forgiveness of brothers and sisters. It happens every time we go to confession: there we receive the love of the Father who overcomes our sin: our sin is no more, because God forgets it. When God forgives, he loses his memory, He forgets our sins, forgets. He's so good to us! Not like us, who after saying "Don't mind about it", at the first opportunity we remember the injuries that we have suffered. No, God cancels evil, He makes us new inside and so makes joy reborn in us, not sadness, not darkness in our heart, not suspicion, but joy.
Brothers and sisters, courage, with God sin does not have the last word. Our Lady, who unties the knots of life, frees us from the pretence of believing ourselves to be righteous and makes us feel the need to go to the Lord, who is always waiting for us to embrace, and to forgive us.
The Lord guides His people, comforts them but also corrects them and punishes them with the tenderness of a father, a shepherd who carries the lambs in His bosom and leads the ewes with care.
The first reading from the Book of Isaiah speaks about God’s consolation for His people Israel as a proclamation of hope. "Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her service is at an end, her guilt is expiated."
The Lord always consoles us as long as we allow ourselves to be consoled. And God corrects with consolation, but how? "Like a shepherd He feeds his flock; in his arms he gathers the lambs, Carrying them in his bosom, and leading the ewes with care." "In His bosom". But this is an expression of tenderness! How does the Lord console? With tenderness. How does the Lord correct? With tenderness. Can you imagine, being in the bosom of the Lord, after having sinned?
The Lord leads, the Lord leads His people, the Lord corrects; I would also say: the Lord punishes with tenderness. The tenderness of God, the caresses of God. It is not a didactic nor diplomatic attitude of God; it comes from within, it is the joy that He has when a sinner approaches. And joy makes Him tender.
In the Parable of the Prodigal Son, the father saw his son from afar: because he was waiting for him, he went up on the terrace to see if his son returns. The heart of the father. And when he arrives and begins that speech of repentance he cuts his son's speech off short and starts celebrating. The Lord's tenderness.
In the Gospel, the shepherd returns, the one who has a hundred sheep and one that is lost. "Will he not leave the 99 in the hills and go in search for the one that's lost?" And if he can find her he will rejoice over it more than the 99 that were not lost. This is the joy of the Lord before the sinner, before us when we allow ourselves to be forgiven, we approach Him to forgive us. A joy that makes tenderness and that tenderness comforts us.
Many times, we complain about the difficulties we have: the devil wants us to fall into the spirit of sadness, embittered by life or our sins. I met a person who was consecrated to God who they called "Complaint", because he couldn't do anything other than complain, it was the Nobel Prize for complaints.
But how often do we complain, we complain, and we often think that our sins, our limitations cannot be forgiven. And it is then that the voice of the Lord comes and says, "I comfort you, I am near you", and He holds us tenderly. The powerful God who created the heavens and earth, the God-hero to put it this way, our brother, who allowed Himself to be brought to the cross to die for us, is able to caress us and say, "Do not cry".
With what tenderness, the Lord would have caressed the widow of Nain when he told her "Don't cry". Maybe, in front of her son’s coffin, He caressed her before He said, "Don't cry". Because there was a disaster there. We must believe this consolation of the Lord, because afterwards there is the grace of forgiveness.
"Father, I have so any sins, I have made so many mistakes in my life" - But let yourself be consoled - by the Lord - Ask for forgiveness: go, go! Be brave. Open the door. And He will caress you. He will approach with the tenderness of a father, a brother: "Like a shepherd he feeds his flock; in his arms He gathers the lambs, carrying them in His bosom, and leading the ewes with care", so the Lord comforts us.