“The Pharisees and the scribes murmured, saying, ‘This man receives sinners and eats with them.” (Luke 15:2)
There is a story told of a man whose wife was pregnant. She was about to give birth. The man had a bicycle so he placed her on the bicycle and rode her while he walked. Someone saw it and laughed at him for being a “woman wrapper.” He decided to share the seat with his wife, it became a bumpy ride, and he was barely managing to avoid a fall. Someone saw it and laughed at him saying: “Do you want to break the bicycle? One of you must come down.”
The moral of the story is this: “in this life, you can never please people.” In Luke chapter 14, beginning from verse 1, Jesus is at the home of a leading Pharisee and he sat at table with other Pharisees. Our Gospel passage today is from Luke 15, from verse 1. Jesus is now in the company of the common people and the Pharisees are complaining: “What is He doing with sinners?”
Recently, a parishioner forwarded a comment sent to her by her friend on Whatsapp. It was regarding the Pope’s comments in the documentary, “Francesco.” Her friend was basically telling her to leave the Catholic Church. I asked for her friend’s number and got talking to her. In the course of our conversation, she presented her impression of the Catholic Church which no doubt has been largely influenced by the media in its bid to paint the Church as bad as possible, of course, not forgetting our history of clerical sexual abuse. For her, the Catholic Church was simply a bunch of sinners living in darkness. She had nothing good to say.
In my response, I remembered today’s Gospel passage. I told her how the Pharisees (who Jesus had basically described as hypocrites) were murmuring that Jesus could afford to be in the company of tax collectors and sinners. Jesus would later on say: “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you.” (Matthew 21:31). As much as clerical abuses are not exclusive to the Catholic Church, even if someone were to convince me of the existence of any church on earth where all its members are completely sinless, I will still remain a Catholic.
In my first year of seminary training, I went to my spiritual director to tell him how I had made up my mind not to resume the following year because of some scandal I experienced. He simply said to me; “you are not becoming a priest because all the priests you know are saints, you are becoming a priest because God has called you and even if you discover that all priests are bad, why not you go and become the only good priest in the universe.” After reflecting on these words, I was determined to press on regardless of whatever my eyes see or my ears hear.
We often assume the church should be a place for holy people only but in reality, the church is also a hospital for the sick; a hospital that is always in need of good doctors. If we all walk away, who will save the dying? Jesus tells us today that there is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over the ninety-nine who have no need for repentance. Know that living in the light is not a matter of simply changing one’s church, it is a matter of changing one’s heart like St. Paul would say: “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”
Let us pray: Lord Jesus, grant me the grace of true repentance that I may become your instrument in bringing the lost back to your fold. Amen.
Bible Study: Philippians 3:3-8, Psalm 105:2-7 and Luke 15:1-10).