2020-02-09 Father Francois Beyrouti's Homily:"Celebrate When God Finds Us and We Find God."
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Celebrate When God Finds Us and We Find God.
Sunday, February 9, 2020 homily by Father François Beyrouti, Ph.D./D.Th.
1 Corinthians 6:12-20. Luke 15:11-32.
Sunday of the Prodigal Son.
The full homily and readings are below.
Father François Beyrouti, Ph.D./D.Th.
Holy Cross Melkite Catholic Church
451 West Madison Avenue
Placentia, CA 92870-4537
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A Reading from the First Epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians (6:12-20).
Brethren, all things are lawful for me, but not all things are fitting. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of anyone. Food is for the belly, and the belly for food, but God will destroy both the one and the other. Now, the body is not for immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. For God has raised up the Lord and will also raise us up by his power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them the members of a prostitute? By no means! Or do you not know that one who cleaves tot a prostitute becomes one body with her? For the two, it is said, shall be one flesh (Gn. 2:24). But he who cleaves to the Lord is one spirit with him. Flee immortality. Every sin a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your members are the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God and that you are not your own? For you have been bought at a great price. Glorify God therefore in your body and in your soul which both are God’s.
Gospel: Luke 15:11-32.
The Lord told this parable: “A man had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that falls to me.’ And he divided his possessions between them. And not many days later, the younger son gathered up all his wealth and traveled to a far country; and there he squandered his fortune in loose living. And after he had spent all, there came a severe famine over that country, and he began to suffer from it. And he went and joined one of the local landowners, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. And he longed to fill himself with the pods the pigs were eating, but no one offered to give them to him. But when he had come to his senses, he said, ‘How many hired men in my father’s house have bread in abundance, while I am perishing with hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me as one of your hired men.” And he got up and went to his father. But while he was yet a long way off, his father saw him and was moved with compassion and ran and fell upon his neck and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the Father said to his servants, ‘Fetch quickly the best robe and put it on him, and give him a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet; and bring out the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and make merry; because this my son was dead, and has come to life again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to make merry. Now his elder son was in the field; and as he came close to the house, he heard music and dancing. And calling one of the servants he asked what this meant. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has got him back safe.’ But he was angered and would not go in. His father, therefore, came out and began to beg him. But he answered and said to his father, ‘Look, these many years I have been serving you, and have never disobeyed any of your orders; and yet, you have never given me a kid that I might make merry with my friends. But when this son of yours comes, who has devoured your wealth with prostitutes; you have killed for him the fattened calf!’ But he said to him, ‘Son you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours; but we were bound to make merry and rejoice, for this your brother was dead, and has come to life; he was lost and is found.’”
Today is the Sunday of the Prodigal Son. By referring to the Gospel in this way we emphasize the wastefulness of the younger son.
In Arabic, today’s Gospel is known as: “Injeel ibnil-shatir.” The word “shatir” in classical Arabic means “cunning” and the verb “shaatara” means “to split or divide.” Therefore, in both English and Arabic the focus is on the son who was wasteful, cunning, and divided the family wealth. However, the true message of the Gospel is not about wastefulness of family wealth.
This section can be renamed the Gospel of the Merciful Father, the Gospel of the Repentant younger son, or the Gospel of the Ungrateful Elder Son. These aspects of waste, ingratitude, repentance, and mercy are perfect themes for our Lenten preparations.
Today’s Gospel begins at Luke 15:11. But, in order to better understand its rich message, we need to go back to the beginning of chapter 15 where the religious authorities are once again challenging Jesus. In verses one and two of that chapter we read that: “the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear Jesus.  And the Pharisees and the scribes murmured, saying, ‘This man receives sinners and eats with them.’ ” (Luke 15:1-2).
Jesus does not respond by arguing with them, but tells them three stories. The first is about a man who had a hundred sheep. When he lost one of them, he left the 99 to search for the lost one. When he found it he tells his friends and neighbors: “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost” (Luke 15:6). Jesus then adds: “Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (Luke 15:7).
Jesus then tells another story about a woman who lost one of her ten coins. In order to find it, she lights a lamp and sweeps the floor (Luke 15:8). Then when she finds it, she does what the man who lost the one sheep did -- she “calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin which I had lost’ ” (Luke 15:9). Jesus then adds: “Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:10). Therefore, the theme that Jesus emphasizes is not only what was lost, but more importantly what was found.
Jesus wants to further emphasize that if people rejoice over a lost sheep or a lost coin, how much more should people rejoice over a lost son. When the shepherd finds the sheep, he does not get upset at it or kick it, but rejoices with his neighbors and friends for having found it. When the woman finds the silver coin, she does not yell at the coin, or throw the coin out of her house, but calls her neighbors and friends to rejoice with her.
This is also what the man who had lost his son does. First, the father respects the decision of the son who leaves the family home. When the son leaves, the father does not reject him. We know he does not reject him, because everyday he looks out into the horizon hoping that the son will return. We see proof of the love, longing, and expectation of the father in verse 20 which reads: “While he was yet at a distance, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.”
God our Father is very much like that. God does not and actually cannot force us to love Him. God freely gives us blessings, joys, and an abundance of so many good things. We can always complain that we don’t have enough or that there is someone somewhere who has more than us, but we should never lose sight of the abundance that we have and make sure that we are grateful for every little bit of everything.
We may focus on what was lost and what we do not have, but God’s gift is in what we have and in what we find when our eyes are open to God’s blessings. Therefore, today’s Gospel is not about a son who wasted his family’s wealth, but a son who woke up to the wrong that he had done, then decided to return to his father.
Even more than this, today’s Gospel focuses on the Father who accepts the son even though he wasted the family’s wealth and despite the damage that he did to himself and his family’s reputation. The father does this simply because the son had the courage to return to his father. In today’s Gospel, the real focus is not on the younger son who left and the damage that he did, but on his return to the father and how the father rejoiced.
At the end of chapter 15 we have no mention of the response of the Pharisees and the scribes. We can only guess that after Jesus told these three stories, they left quite embarrassed for thinking that Jesus should reject sinners.
As we prepare for Great Lent, we can ask ourselves where we fit in these stories.
Are we like the Pharisees and Scribes who are so quick to judge the weaknesses of others? After all, it is much easier to see the faults of others than it is to see our own faults.
Are we like the younger son before he left, who does not appreciate the blessings that he has? Do we overlook or are we running away from the goodness of our heavenly Father?
Are we like the elder son who failed to see the importance of the return of his younger brother? Or are we like the younger son who woke up after he realized how much damage he did?
When we do something wrong, do we have the courage to use the younger son’s words: “I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you;  I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me as one of your hired servants’ ” (Luke 15:18-19). We may deserve to be a servant but God always treats us like a son or a daughter.
One of the most important themes of Lent and these weeks of preparation is that we all need to repent. We may love God, but everyone has something in their life that is stopping them from loving God more. There is also something stopping us from loving ourselves and others more. This time of preparation for the Great Fast is one that reminds us to search for opportunities and make time for spiritual growth.
Repentance is not telling ourselves how bad we are. Rather, repentance encourages us to see how great we are when are eyes remain focused on God and everything He gives us. No matter what we have done and no matter how much damage we have caused, God is always ready to welcome us back as His son or daughter.
As with today’s parable of the prodigal son, the problem with our relationship with God is never whether God will accept us. We have the answer to whether God loves us unconditionally in today’s parable: “His father ordered his servants, ‘Quickly bring the finest robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.  Take the fattened calf and slaughter it. Then let us celebrate with a feast,  because this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again; he was lost, and has been found.’ Then the celebration began” (Luke 15:22-24).
The bigger daily problem is always whether we will accept our own weaknesses and realize that true strength comes from humility, appreciation, and learning how to better love and serve our heavenly Father every day. Today’s Gospel reminds us that although we are sometimes lost, God is always waiting for us. He has already found us and He rejoices when we set time aside to find Him.