Homily by Archbishop Charles Jude Scicluna
Today’s Gospel starts from an event that happened during the time of Jesus; a tragic event that Jesus mentions by name. Pontius Pilate decides to punish several Galileans that were doing sacrifices to God, without permission. They are killed as they were doing an act of worship. Jesus says: “Pilate had mingled their blood with that their sacrifices” (Lk 13,1). Their end was a tragic and violent death. We are witnesses to so many innocent victims, even as we speak. The victims of war, the victims of the strife of aggression. The Lord says: “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans?” (Lk 13:2) Was this punishment for their sins? “No, I tell you (Lk 13:3).
Then he mentions another event that happened in Jerusalem. A tower, called the tower of Siloam, fell and some people died in this tragic accident. It is probably not an event linked to malice or aggression but they were innocent victims of this tragic event. “do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you” (Lk 13:4-5). With these questions, the Lord purifies the idea that if something bad happens to you, it is because you are bad or because you have to pay for your sins.
The point that the Lord wants to make on this Sunday of Lent, is that we all need to repent, wherever we are and whatever happens to us. What does repent means? Acknowledge that we are in constant need of the Lord’s mercy. That we are sinners. That is what we say at the beginning of mass. That is what we acknowledge to prepare to celebrate the mystery of the Lord’s mercy to us. “But unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did” (Lk 13:5). And it is not only losing one’s life in this life but even beyond this life. Repentance is realising that the Lord’s way of looking at us is different to the way we look at each other. Sometimes, we look at each other in a very judgemental way. Deciding between white and black; not accepting that human reality is complex, very very complex.
That’s why in the second part of today’s Gospel, the Lord gives a parable. He goes from two events that happened during his time: a tragic assassination of innocent people during acts of worship, a tragic end of people who were at the wrong place at the wrong time; and then he gives us a parable of a man who had a fig tree and for three years went to this fig tree expecting the lovely fruit of the fig. We, Maltese, are very fond of this fruit which grows in the Mediterranean. We also expect that our fig trees do their fruit in good time.
This man loses his patience. He said to his gardener: “For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’” (Lk 13:7) The gardener — which the Fathers of the Church always saw Jesus in this gardener of the story of the parable — encourages the owner of the fig tree and of the vineyard where the fig tree is, to be patient. “He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down’” (Lk 13:8-9).
Jesus is telling us that the Lord is ready to wait, he is not in a hurry. There are time limits because we are not here forever and he is inviting us to turn to Him and ask forgiveness for our sins, and to go to confession when we need to. There is no time to waste. After all, he mentioned these two tragic incidents of people dying without being sick, but because they were at the wrong place at the wrong time. Those doing the acts of worship, which Pilate condemned, and those who were under the tower of Siloam that fell. They had a tragic and sudden end to their lives and this could happen to us.
I like to tell Jesus: ‘Dear Lord, call me whenever you want, but I am not in a hurry’. It is good to tell Jesus that we are not in a hurry. Whenever you want! After all, he is going to do whatever he wants and whenever he wants, but I am not in a hurry. But at the same time, we need to be prepared. Being prepared, especially during this beautiful season of Lent, is to rediscover the beauty of the Lord’s patience and the beauty of the Lord’s mercy. Because if we go to Him with great humility and truth, He will forgive us and embrace us with His mercy. There is no limit to His patience, no limit to His mercy. This is the Good News that we need to share today.
I would like to thank you for joining us in this Eucharist today. I hope that you feel welcome on our islands and that you also recognise how grateful we are for your contribution. There are so many of you that contribute to the well being of our society. I would like to say ‘thank you’ to so many people in the caring professions; so many people who have invested time, energy and love in our community. It is also great to hear the witness of your faith that we receive in our parishes. So many parish priests tell me how wonderful it is to see you in our churches, praying, visiting our shrines and being there as a beautiful Christian presence that makes our Church beautiful and truly Catholic. Thank you!
Let us also pray that for the visit of the Holy Father Pope Francis, now within a fortnight, the weather will be a bit better. Please pray with me. We can organise so many things but we cannot organise the weather. So we better pray. Imagine, if he has to come in this weather and has to go to Gozo on such a day. You understand where my mind is at the moment. So I am praying that Pope comes and goes quickly, not because I am in a hurry, but you can understand the feeling. I appreciate your prayers not only for a beautiful visit of the Holy Father but please, for good weather. Fingers crossed.
✠ Charles Jude Scicluna
Archbishop of Malta
First Reading: Exodus 3:1-8A, 13-15
Psalm: 103: 1-2, 3-4, 6-7, 8, 11
Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 10:1-6, 10-12
Gospel: Luke 13:1-9