Continuing his catechesis on mercy and facing one of the topics of his recently published Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia, in front of twenty thousand people crowded in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis focused his reflection on the Gospel of the call of Matthew the publican; that is, a “tax collector of the Roman Empire, considered to be a public sinner.” However, “Jesus calls him” to follow him and “become one of his disciples.” The young man accepts “and invites him to have dinner together at his place.” That is when “a discussion begins between the Pharisees and Jesus’ disciples because they share the table with publicans and sinners.”
“You cannot go to these people’s house!” they said. Jesus does not chase them “he even attends their homes and sit beside them; It means they can become His disciples as well.” But it is also true “that being Christian does not make us perfectly clean. Like Matthew the publican, each of us relies on the grace of God despite their sins – the Pope went on -. We are all sinners, we all have sins. Calling Matthew, Jesus shows sinners that He does not look at their past, social condition, or external conventions, but opens a new future for them. I once heard a nice saying: ‘There are no saints without a past nor sinners without a future'”.
“This is what Jesus does. It is enough to answer with a humble and sincere heart to the invitation. The Church – the Pope says – is not a community of perfect people, but of disciples on a journey, people who follow the Lord because they acknowledge that they are sinners and that they need his forgiveness. Christian life is a school of humility that opens us to grace. Such behavior is not understood by those whose presumptuousness makes them consider themselves to be ‘rightful’ and better than the others.” Francis recalls that “arrogance and pride will not allow you to acknowledge that they are in need of salvation. Quite the opposite, they are unable to see the merciful face of God and to act mercifully.” These are a wall “that hinder your relationship with God. Yet, that is exactly Jesus’ mission: come looking for each of us to heal our wounds and to call us to follow Him with love.”
Jesus says it clearly himself: “The healthy do not need a doctor, the sick do.” Christ “arrives as a good doctor! He announces the kingdom of God, and the signs of his coming are obvious: He cures diseases and frees from fear, death, and from the devil.” Before the Son of God, “no sinner is excluded, because the healing power of God knows no illness which cannot be cured; it should give us confidence and open our hearts to the Lord, so he can come and heal us.”
In the act of sitting at the table with sinners, Christ “heals them and restores their vocation, which they thought was lost and which was forgotten by the Pharisees: that of guests at God’s banquet.” He does so “in accordance with the prophecy of Isaiah: ‘the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine. It will be said on that day, “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the LORD; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.'”
“Whereas the Pharisees see the guests only as sinners and refuse to sit next to them, Jesus reminds them that they too are God’s guests. Thus – the Pope goes on -, to sit at the same table with Jesus means to be transformed and saved by Him”. Inside the Church, “the table of Jesus is twofold: there is the table of the Word and there is the table of the Eucharist. These are the drugs with which the ‘Divine Doctor’ heals and feeds us. With the first one – the Word – he reveals himself and invites us to a dialogue between friends… Jesus was not afraid of talking to sinners, publicans, and prostitutes… No, he was not afraid; he loved them all! His Word enters us and cuts deep like a scalpel to free us from the evil that lurks in our lives.”
Sometimes “this Word is painful because it affects hypocrisies, unmasks false excuses, and exposes hidden truths; but at the same time it illuminates and purifies, gives strength and hope, and is a valuable refresher on our journey of faith. The Eucharist, in turn, nourishes us with Jesus’ life. As a powerful remedy, it keeps mysteriously renewing the grace of our baptism. Through the Eucharist we are nourished by Jesus’ Body and Blood. Yet, entering our bodies, Jesus unites us and His Body.”
Finishing His dialogue with the Pharisees, “Jesus reminds them a word of the prophet Hosea: ‘Go and learn what this means:’ I desire mercy and not sacrifice’. The prophet scolded the people of Israel “because their prayers were empty and incoherent words. Despite God’s cooperation and mercy – he continues – the people often lived with a ‘facade’ religiosity, without a deep experience of the Lord’s command. That is why the prophet insists: ‘I desire mercy’, that is, the loyalty of a heart that recognizes its sins, that repents and becomes faithful to alliance with God.”
Francis reminds that “without a repentant heart every religious action is ineffective!” And “Jesus applies this prophetic sentence also to human relationships: those Pharisees were formally very religious, but they were not willing to share the table with publicans and sinners; They did not recognize the possibility of reformation and healing; they did not put mercy before anything else (despite being faithful custodians of the law), they proved they did not know God’s heart!” The same happens when someone gives us “a box with a gift inside” and instead of searching for the gift, we “only look at the paper it is wrapped in: only the look and the shape instead of the core of grace, that is, the gift we are given.”
Each of us is invited to sit at “the Lord’s table. Let us make our own the invitation to sit next to Him and His disciples. Let us learn to look with mercy and to recognize in each one of them our companion. We are all disciples who need to experience and live Jesus’ reassuring word – he concludes -. We all need to be nourished by the mercy of God because that is the source of our salvation. Thank you!”
During the greetings at the end of the audience, Bergoglio addresses a thought also to his upcoming journey to the Greek island of Lesbos: “I will go there, together with my brothers, the Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew and the Archbishop of Athens and All Greece Hieronymos, to express closeness and solidarity to refugees, the citizens of the island, and to all the Greek people who welcomed them so generously. Please, accompany me with prayer, invoking the light and power of the Holy Spirit and the maternal intercession of the Virgin Mary”.