Homily by Archbishop Charles J. Scicluna
St Theresa Convent, Mellieħa
13 July 2019
I will offer a short reflection inspired by this very beautiful Gospel from Matthew. First of all there are two titles that Jesus uses for us: disciple and servant. This translation has slave. In the Greek doulos or doula manservant or female servant, is also slave. There is also diaconos, which is the person who serves at table. But Jesus prefers doulos even when he speaks of himself. And even Our Lady when she said: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord, let it be with me according to your word” (Lk 1: 38) She uses the word doula – servant, slave. So it is not slaves who are being struck and treated badly but people who have given everything to the Lord and have entrusted their life to him. That is what the servant does.
The disciple is the person who listens and learns. Disciple is a person who is a follower and his superior is the teacher. We understand these two titles when Jesus speaks of himself. When he describes us as disciples, he calls himself teacher. When he describes us as slaves, servants, he describes himself as master. Helios in Greek, when we say kyrie eleison, Lord have mercy, we are saying the same word: master. So in order to understand our relationship to Jesus we should meditate on the disciples, I know it’s a word that you have already written down, but also servants.
Now there is a whole spirituality about being a servant of Jesus. You know that when he talks about the grain of wheat that falls to the ground and dies so that it may not remain on its own but it can multiply. He also talks about his servants where myself it is there I will be. How interesting it is when Jesus promises us that where we are, we are his servants, he will be with us. Wherever you are if you are disciples and servants, Jesus will be with you.
He also expects us to understand that we will not be treated better than he was. “It is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher” (Mt 10: 25). What Jesus is telling us is that our ideal is to grow to be like him because he is our teacher. It is enough for “the slave to be like the master”. So as an ideal of our development, an ideal of our holiness, he puts himself. And that is why we focus on him.
The second part of today’s gospel is an invitation not to be afraid and Jesus repeats this a number of times in Mt 10: “Do not be afraid”. Do not be afraid of those who may tell lies about you. So interestingly enough Jesus talked with the first level of hostility. We are usually bound to meet as disciples and servants of misunderstanding, malicious fake news which is very fashionable and also calumny.
“So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known” (Mt 10: 26). And so Jesus invites us to proclaim what he tells us “from the housetops” (Mt 10: 27). It is not only about radiowaves because those are also announced from the housetops but it is the courage to proclaim the good news.
You are meditating on the beautiful passage from Luke 24, Emmaus and you know that the disciples, having realised that Jesus is with them, not was, he is with them, return to Jerusalem. They make the homeward journey. Emmaus is a place of exile but Jesus is there also. Emmaus is some sort of periphery, you go away from the centre and you may go with a heavy heart but Jesus will show himself there, far away and that is the way he reveals himself to us.
The disciples of Emmaus went back to Jerusalem and told them: “The Lord has risen indeed” (Lk 24: 34). The Lord then talks about a second level of hostility that which worries us the most: “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul” (Mt 10: 28). And we have so many stories during these 2,000 years of people who have been killed out of hatred for Jesus to the very days that we are living, priests and religious who are killed out of hatred for what we stand for. He tells us however, that we need to fear the Lord who can destroy both body and soul in hell. This is something that we priests and bishops do not preach any more but the Lord reminds us that there is a just cause that has the power to destroy our body and our soul in hell. There is justice and there is a just judgement and this is the time to come back to him in a true way.
He also tells us to entrust our lives to him. This is the Lord may seem distant at times; we are in great difficulties, we pray, nothing happens and we repeat what Jesus said on the cross: “Why have you forsaken me?” (Mt 27: 46). Where are you? Are you deaf? Are you dumb? Are you blind? Where are you? Why have you foraken me? “Can you not buy two sparrows for a penny? For only a penny you buy two sparrows, yet not one sparrow falls to the ground without your Father’s consent. As for you, even the hairs of your head have all been counted. So do not be; afraid, you are worth more than many sparrows” (Mt:10: 29-30). You are precious in the eyes of the Lord. He may seem distant but he’s always there.
This is something that the disciples of Emmaus realised: he was with them in the journey, trying to explain the Scripture, inviting them to understand that their hearts were “burning within us while he was talking to us on the road” (Lk 24: 32). They recognised him “in the breaking of the bread” (Lk 24: 35). They were precious to Jesus. They left Jerusalem disillusioned, having heard the narrative of the resurrection but saying these are all silly fairytales told by women. We’d better go away, this is all trouble. And Jesus does not abandon, they abandon him, but he does not abandon them. He walks with them. “What are you discussing?” And he tells them: “Oh you hard of heart”.
This sclero cardia, you know when we get old, some of us realise what sclerosis means when the bones become very stiff and this is the hardness, the sclerosis of hearts, sclero cardia, the hardness of hearts. No need to be afraid.
At times during these Chapter experiences, we are truly afraid, we are truly afraid of who is going to be in charge, truly afraid of what we are going to do next, truly afraid of whom we are going to trust with certain tasks, responsibilities. Jesus today helps you as a child: ‘do not be afraid’. Pray, open your hearts to the spirit of the Lord, forget yourselves, and the Lord will guide you. “Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven” (Mt 10: 32). But to declare oneself for somebody is to be witness. The term witness in the New Testament has this meaning – to declare oneself for or in favour of somebody. It comes from the tribunal jargon or the court of laws jargon – you call somebody to speak in favour of what you say or in favour of your character. That is being a witness, being a martyr. The term ‘witness’ in Greek is martris from where we get also the term ‘witness as martyr’.
And so to declare oneself for Jesus in the presence of men is to open oneself to be a witness, an uncomfortable witness. You may be called to be in a hostile environment that does not accept Jesus, because they do not know Jesus or the Jesus they know doesn not exist or is a fake Jesus. There are an experience of the Church which is not the true Church of Jesus. And you as religious have been called to be special witnesses to Jesus. You declare yourself for Jesus through the vows of obedience, of poverty and of chastity. That is your witness. If you ask me: ‘how do we declare ourselves for Jesus in the presence of men?’ By living your vows. And when we do not live up to our vows then we disown Jesus in the presence of men and He will disown us. There is also a responsibility and a judgement.
So we pray also during this Chapter that you may be catalysts – facilitators of this fidelity. You have been chosen to represent so many communities for this Chapter. You need to be facilitators of this fidelity. It is not easy. Jesus tells also people in leadership today “do not be afraid”. What does he expect of us? Fidelity, that we trust him but that we also grow into people who are worthy of his trust.
You know when we look at Pope Francis and we listen to his words, we are put in a crisis stage. I always tell him: ‘Whenever I read what you tell us, I am in a crisis, you put me in a crisis.’ And he smiles, he likes that. It’s like listening to Jesus, you know if you listen to Jesus, he puts you in a crisis because he takes you away from your acquired comfort mode or comfort zone and he brings you somewhere where you don’t want to be, because he challenging you, it’s adventerous, it’s risky.
Imagine a baby telling her mother or his mother: ‘I am comfortable in your womb. I will stay here, I don’t want to be born’. That would be death, that will be death. And in life we go from one womb to the other, in formation we are as in a womb. But then we have to come out to be born and to a new lifestyle. This is the renewal that the Lord empowers us to live through his own spirit.
So let us pray that the Spirit may continue to be with you, invoke his Spirit all the time, tell him ‘stay here, don’t go away, we need you’. Veni, veni Creator Spiritus, come creator spirit. This will be your constant prayer that purifies of any personal agendas or egoism to make you free to listen to Jesus and his spirit and be also to do what he is asking us to do.
✠ Charles J. Scicluna
Archbishop of Malta
First Reading: Gen 49, 29-33; 50, 15-26aPsalm: 104 (105), 1-2.3-4.6-7Gospel: Mt 10, 24-33