At morning Mass in the Casa Santa Marta today, Pope Francis reminded faithful that people followed Jesus since they recognized he was always truly a “good shepherd,” with a loving and merciful voice, and never was like his counterparts “who reduced the faith to moralism, pursued political liberation, or sought deals with power.”
The Pontiff asked those present to consider how Jesus won over the hearts of many. He stressed that Jesus “wasn’t a moralistic, quibbling Pharisee, or a Sadducee who made political deals with the powerful, or a guerrilla who sought the political liberation of his people,” nor was he “a contemplative in a monastery.”
“He was a pastor! A pastor who spoke the language of His people, Who understood, Who spoke the truth, the things of God.”
“He spoke in such a way that the people loved the things of God. That’s why they followed Him,” the Holy Father suggested.
Jesus, the Pope said, “was never far from the people, was never far from His Father.” Jesus “was so joined to the Father, He was one with the Father!” and also was “so very close to the people.” He “had this authority, and this is why the people followed Him.” Contemplating Jesus, the Good Shepherd, the Pope said, it would be good for us to think about who we like to follow.
Before exploring this further, he turned to why Jesus was followed, saying the crowds followed Jesus not only because “they were astonished by His teaching,” but also because his words “brought wonder to their hearts, the wonder of finding something good, great.” Whereas, he added, others spoke, “but they did not reach the people.”
The Pope mentioned four groups of people that were speaking at the time of Jesus: the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Revolutionaries, and the Essenes.
The Pharisees, he said, were making religion into a chain of commandments, turning the Ten Commandments into “more than three hundred,” loading “this weight” on the backs of the people. The Pope said their obsession with laws and rules essentially became “a reduction of the faith in the Living God,” and led to “moral quibbling” and “contradictions.”
“For example, ‘You have to obey the fourth commandment!’ ‘Yes, yes, yes!’ ‘You have to feed your elderly father, your elderly mother!’ ‘Yes, yes, yes!’ ‘But you know, I can’t because I gave my money to the temple!’; ‘You don’t do that? And your parents starve to death!’ So: contradictions of the cruelest kind of moralistic quibbling,” the Pontiff illustrated.
This group, the Pope said, “did not have the faith, they had lost the faith! They made it their religious work to make deals with the powers: political powers, economic powers. They were men of power.”
The “revolutionaries,” or the zealots, wanted to cause a revolution to free the people of Israel from the Roman occupation, the Pontiff explained. The people, he added, were wise and knew ”to distinguish when the fruit was ripe and when it was not!” and, “therefore, didn’t follow them.”
The fourth group, the Essenes, were sort of like monks who consecrated their lives to the Lord and were “good people,” the Pope said. However, he cautioned, that “they were far from the people, and the people couldn’t follow them.”
Describing these groups together, the Pope said that though their voices “reached” the people, they did not have the power to “warm the people’s hearts.” However, this is how Jesus was different,” his voice, instead, did. When Jesus “approached to the people,” he could heal their hearts because he could “understand their difficulties,” and unlike others, he “was not ashamed to speak with sinners,” and instead “went out to find them,” he added.
Jesus vs. the Others:
Jesus delighted in being with his people. This is why Jesus is “the Good Shepherd:” his flock of sheep hear His voice and follow Him.
Jesus was “never far,” not from the people, nor from His Father. In fact, he added, he was intimately close with both, and, for this reason, he had a unique “authority” and “this is why the people followed Him.”
What About You?
Francis, then turned to today and asked: “Who do I like to follow? Those who talk to me about abstract things or quibbling morals? Those who talk about the people of God but have no faith and negotiate with political, economic powers? Those who always want to do strange things, destructive things, so-called wars of liberation, but which in the end are not the paths of the Lord? Or a faraway contemplative? Who do I like to follow?”
Leaving this as the final thought, he said, “May this question bring us to prayer, and to ask God the Father, who brings us close to Jesus, to follow Jesus, to be amazed at the things Jesus tells us.” (D.C.L.)