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Thursday, October 22, 2020

The Pharisees, Sadducees, Scribes, and Lawyers are at it again, only this time, instead of going after Jesus it's Pope Francis!

The nitpickers are at it again. This time it's articles covering the launch of a new Italian film on Pope Francis called "Francesco"; only it's not about him but about the many troubles and issues in the world about which Pope Francis cares a great deal such as: "the environment, poverty, migration, racial and income inequality, and the people most affected by discrimination". He cares about these issues because he cares about people; as well he should as Pope and as well we should, especially those of us who claim to be Christian.

I don't know about you but I for one am becoming not a little irritated at all those apparently so eager or taking such pleasure in attacking Pope Francis because he doesn't go through a litany of condemnations against every human evil imaginable - especially these people's pet peeves regarding "sexual sins" every time he opens his mouth. For people with this mindset everything has got to be black and white. They would have been the first to throw stones at the woman caught in the very act of adultery that the religious leaders brought to Jesus to trap him up over what to do with her. John 8 

The Mosaic Law was abundantly clear: such people must be stoned to death; however, not only the woman but also the man. Where was the man? If they caught her "in the very act of adultery" then there must have been a man. Why did they only bring the woman to Jesus? No doubt that the "one" who caught her in the act was the man himself, but on perceiving that one or more witnesses were about to catch them he decided to switch roles to that of accuser. 

Why did the woman not denounce him? Probably because women are more loving than men generally and it appears she chose to face the accusations alone rather than implicate him. Typical feminine selflessness versus typical male selfishness, and we know what the outcome would have been had Jesus not outsmarted the religious leaders who took on the role of Satan, "the accuser of mankind". 

If Jesus knew that one of those accusers was probably the man who committed adultery with her, since Jesus could read people's minds and hearts, why then did He not denounce the man? Instead he just "wrote in the dirt with his finger".... You see what God is like? He doesn't accuse; rather He gives us time to realize our fault so we can have the credit of changing our own mind and heart. John tells that the men - probably reluctantly because they were looking forward to making and example of the woman and stoning her to death - slowly dropped their stones and walked away, beginning with the eldest. Why the eldest? Because they had lived long enough to have realized by now that they were sinners too; whereas the younger men may still have needed to learn this hard lesson. It is much easier to accuse others than to admit our own sins. The truth is very painful; which is why God is so gentle. 

Well the religious leaders were furious with Jesus showing this woman gentleness and mercy, even forgiving her sins, and letting her go in peace. Why did these religious leaders have Jesus killed? Because he had the temerity to act friendly with known sinners when, in their view, he should have been accusing and condemning them. The ones who are most eager to insist on the full measure of the Law being carried out are generally the ones who have the most to hide; so they try to appear just and righteous themselves in the eyes of others by becoming the loudest accusers. 

So what as Pope Francis big "crime" this time? It wasn't even anything recent that he said or did, but a remark he made over a year ago in an recorded interview which didn't get televised at the time. This time for the sake of the film "Francesco", since the issue of homosexual unions came up, they used that bit of recorded interview. Here's what he said: "Homosexual people have the right to be in a family. They are children of God... You can't kick someone out of a family, nor make their life miserable for this. What we have to have is a civil union law; that way they are legally covered." 

What is so terribly wrong about what Pope Francis said in that previous interview? Those who attack Pope Francis do so because they can't stand the possibility that anyone might "be getting away with anything"... perhaps they might want "to get away with some things" but if they can't; then they don't want anyone else "to get away with anything" either. I won't go so far as to insinuate that Pope Francis' accusers are hypocrites, but it appears they would want the Pope - every time he opens his mouth - to rime off a list of condemnations of people who do all the things that they find bothersome. 

There were times in the past when the Church was a lot heavier on the "accusing and condemning" side of things. At the Second Vatican Council, the Holy Spirit reminded the Church that Jesus came to bring the Good News that: 

"Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. God so loved the world that He gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God." John 3:14-21 

As a result, since Vatican II the Roman Catholic Church has been rediscovering how to carry on the mission entrusted to her by Jesus, namely, to proclaim the Good News that we are to repent because the Kingdom of God is at hand. As Mark reported it in 1:15, Jesus went about declaring: "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news." Now Jesus did continue to proclaim this Good News in many ways, mostly be telling parables. Why did He do that? Because He knew, as his Father in Heaven knows, that we're a wretched bunch of sinners and we're generally not ready to repent completely... we need more time... until the day when our time is up.

Jesus never went around grabbing people by the scruff of the neck to yell into their faces: "Hey you! Don't you know what you're doing is wrong... it's against THE LAW! You're breaking one or more of the ten commandments; so STOP IT!" Jesus never does that... Satan is the one who goes around accusing everyone. Check out the Book of Job and you will find that it is Satan who does the accusing. 

You might turn around and argue that Jesus did accuse the religious leaders... so what about that? Yes, Jesus did accuse them, but only because they were HYPOCRITES who pretended to observe the Law so that people would admire them, but in their hearts, they didn't really love God and they hated their neighbours and had nothing but contempt for the poor and those who manifested some external signs that they might be in a sinful condition, or at least that they weren't observing the whole Law.

As if that wasn't bad enough, these Pharisees and Sadducees, Scribes and Lawyers made sure to impose the full weight of the Law on the people, especially on the poor and wretched whose hard lives made it impossible for them to keep the whole Law, and they refused to lift a finger to do anything to try to alleviate these burdens on God's people. Well their behaviour really stirred up in Jesus the wrath of God because He is a jealous God out of love and tenderness for his people, much like a mother springs to action whenever her children are threatened with harm. 

Saul was a Pharisee just like the ones who had Jesus killed and he fully approved and supported the stoning of the Deacon Stephen, our first Christian martyr. Saul went on a rampage to wipe out all the Christians he could lay his hands on until Jesus stopped him in his tracks. Once Jesus appeared to Saint Paul and he realized the error of his way of thinking. From then on, Paul preached it is impossible for us to make ourselves just before God by attempting to keep the whole Law. The Good News that Jesus brought is that God offers to CONSIDER US JUST if only we are willing to believe in Jesus his Son and to admit our sinfulness and poverty and do our best to accept his grace to repent, to change our lives, to turn away from our sinful ways and try to live as children of God. 

How do children of God behave? Jesus commanded us to love God with our whole self and to love our neighbor as our self. He even went further and commanded us: "Love your enemies and do good to those who hate you." Luke 6:27 Well, we certainly aren't loving our neighbor or our enemies by going around trying to "pin the tail on the donkey" for everyone who may behave in ways we don't approve or in ways we consider contrary to THE LAW.

Pope Francis' many accusers just can't stand it when he makes statements like the one he said on a plane 3 or 4 years ago in answer to a question from a journalist about homosexual unions: "Who am I to judge?" That one really sticks in their craw because they want CONDEMNATIONS. Actually Pope Francis' stance in the face of homosexuals or anyone else who may or may not be in a state of sin is the correct stance we should all adopt. Only God has the competence and clarity of vision to judge justly and mercifully. Of course society must have laws and police and courts and judges for the sake of a minimum of law and order. Check out what Saint Paul wrote to the Romans about judging (Rm 2).

However, when it comes to sexual morality, it's not only sexual behaviours that God would take into consideration but also the lives that people are living. Let's put it this way. A married man who has violent sexual relations with his wife, in effect raping her every time, will be judged far more harshly that two men or two women who are in a long term civil union by which they care for each other with tenderness and do their best to live good lives and possibly raise their children. 

No one is condoning expressions of human sexuality that are in discord with God's plan for marriage; however, when God looks at us, He doesn't only see our behaviour, but He looks deeply into our mind, heart, and soul as well as our body. Only God is competent and qualified to judge. We are not to compare ourselves to others or our behaviour to theirs; rather, we are to compare ourselves to Jesus, who is our model. 

Take another example. One day the religious leaders disputed with Jesus over what authority he was claiming by teaching the things He taught. He replied with a question of his own, but they refused to answer; so Jesus told them that tax collectors and prostitutes were entering the kingdom of heaven ahead of them. That really stuck in their craw. 

Jesus said to them, “I will also ask you one question; if you tell me the answer, then I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?” And they argued with one another, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘Of human origin,’ we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet.” So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.“Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him." Matthew 21:23-27, 31-32 

Another dimension overlooked by Pope Francis' accusers is that our human society, humanity, isn't identical to the Kingdom of God. Our society is not a theocracy with God as King and everyone on Earth as subjects. Yes, we Christians believe that Jesus is in truth King of the Universe, but not all human beings know or accept that truth yet. Jesus is not the kind of King who goes around clobbering anyone who doesn't kneel down on sight. Remember how He behaved on the day He died? He went quietly, not shouting, not defending himself, quietly, like a Lamb to the slaughter. He loved even his accusers and tormentors and refused to raise his voice against them; letting them have as much time as possible to come to their senses on their own and realize what they had done. 

Islamic countries that abide by Sharia Law from the Qu'ran are in effect theocracies, societies regulated by religious law. If you are caught stealing, they cut off your hand. If you do it again they cut off your foot, and so on. Perhaps Pope Francis' accusers would want him to do something along those lines and condemn all the people whose behaviours these accusers don't like. These are not the Lord's ways.

Pope Francis is teaching us that civil society must have its laws for the common good. Under those laws he said that it would be good for two men or two women living together to have a civil union; so that they would be "covered" by civil law, like everyone else who tries to establish and live in a family. 

Those of us who claim to be Christians and try to follow Jesus and live as children of God live by a different set of "rules" which are actually more demanding. Jesus came to fulfill the Law by raising it to a higher standard: "Love one another as I have loved you." Are we ready to lay down our lives for those in homosexual households? Or for our enemies? Jesus did. He laid down his life for us, and we're all a pretty rough and tumble bunch of hard-hearted sinners. It's difficult to follow Jesus, in fact, it's humanly impossible; which is why we need to be filled with the Holy Spirit. We cannot save ourselves, but we can accept Jesus as our Saviour, confess our sins daily, and allow the Holy Spirit to fill us and makes us every day a little more like Jesus, a little more like Pope Francis!