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The “message of this story is very clear for the Church”: “God did not send his son to punish sinners or destroy the wicked. On the contrary, He invites them to convert, to find their way back” – said Pope Francis during the Wednesday Papal audience in St. Peter’s Square. Today, he commented on the passage from the Gospel of Mathew in which John the Baptist, who is in prison, sends his disciples to Jesus to ask Him: “Are you the one who has to come, or should we wait for someone else?

Bergoglio analyzed John the Baptist’s different “style” of preaching compared to that of Jesus: the first one had described the Messiah as the one who rewards the good and punishes the wicked, using also strong images, such as that of the “axe”, “already placed at the roots of the trees”. The Pontiff also stressed the fact that Jesus’ forerunner was in a situation of darkness, “John – the Pope said – is suffering, darkness around him is double, the darkness of the cell, the prison, and darkness in his heart; he is suffering and wants to know whether Jesus is the messiah, or “whether he has to wait longer. In John the Baptist, are summarized yearning for justice and a condition of spiritual darkness, a situation common to many believers today. The Holy Father examined the answer given by Jesus to the disciples of John the Baptist, which at “a first glance seems not to correspond to the request of John the Baptist”. Hence, the Pope developed the concept of the relationship between justice and mercy, the first being the core of John the Baptist’s preaching, the second – the core of Christ’s mission.

Matthew’s purpose is to “make us enter the mystery of Jesus further, to seize His goodness and mercy.” The teaching of this passage is that “God did not send his Son to condemn the world or to destroy the wicked, but to invite everyone to conversion and salvation. Justice, which is the heart of John the Baptist’s preaching, manifested in Jesus’ actions and words principally as mercy.”

“The current warning for today’s man” from John the Baptist’s doubts before the mercy preached by Christ, is that the “Man builds images of God that prevent him from tasting His real presence”, said Bergoglio. “Do it yourself faith” – he observed – is the faith of those who “reduce God to a limited space of their own desires and their own beliefs, but this belief is not conversion to the Lord; quite the opposite, it prevents us from provoking our life and our consciousness”. Others -he added -“use God as an idol, and they use his name to justify their own interests or even hatred and violence.” For others still, “God is a psychological refuge in difficult times and in this case, their faith turns in on itself, impermeable to the merciful love of Jesus that pushes us towards our brothers,” and finally, for “some people, Jesus is a good master of ethical teachings, one among many others in history”;

Finally, “there are those who stifle the Church in a purely intimate relationship with Jesus, canceling his missionary thrust, capable of transforming the Man and history. We, Christians, believe in Jesus Christ’s God, and His desire is to grow in the living experience of the mystery of love: so, let us commit not to put any obstacles to the action of our merciful Father, but have much faith in Him, so we can become tools of mercy as well”.

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