In his homily in the chapel of the Santa Marta residence in the Vatican on Friday morning, the Holy Father reflected on the “newness” of the Gospel – as Good News, and as a bringer of New Things – that frees the person who believes it from slavery to automatic legalism, and opens the heart to the new commandment: love.
The Gospel reading for Friday told the story of the Scribes, who badgered Jesus about the behavior of His disciples, by pointing out that they did not – as the disciples of John the Baptist regularly did – fast and offer prayers. The Lord would not let Himself be provoked, however:
“New wine, new wineskins: the ‘novelty’ of the Gospel – and what does the Gospel bring us? Joy and renewal [It. novità]. These Doctors of the Law were hidebound by their commandments, their rules. St. Paul, speaking of them, tells us that, before faith came – that is, Jesus – we were all kept in custody, as prisoners under the Law. This Law, of this people, was not bad: they were cared for, but they were prisoners, awaiting the advent of faith – that faith, which would be revealed in Christ, itself.”
Pope Francis went on to observe that the People had both the Mosaic Law and a host of customs and smaller legal requirements that the Doctors of the Law had codified. “The Law,” said Pope Francis, “cared for the people, albeit as prisoners are cared-for, and the people were awaiting liberty – that ultimate liberty that God would give to His people through His son.”:
“One of you might say to me: ‘But Father, don’t Christians have laws?’ Yes. Jesus said: ‘I do not come to [abolish the Law], but to fulfil it.’ – and the Beatitudes, for example – the law of love – total love – as Jesus loved us, are the fullness of the Law. Jesus, when he reproves these Doctors of the Law, is taking them to task for not caring for the people with the Law, but making them slaves to so many little laws, so many little things that had to be done.”
Pope Francis went on to explain that all these “little things” that had to be done, had to be done without the freedom that Jesus brings to us with the new law, which He promulgated with His blood. “This,” he said, “is precisely the ransom that the people were awaiting,” while they were, “under the guardianship of the Law, however as prisoners.” The Holy Father also explained that another central lesson of this reading is that the Lord wants us not to be afraid of changing things according to the law of the Gospel:
“St. Paul clearly distinguishes the children of the law from the children of faith: new wine in new wineskins – and this is why the Church asks all of us to change certain things. She asks us to let go of decadent structures – they are useless – and to take up new wineskins, those of the Gospel. One sannot understand the mentality of these Doctors of the Law – for example – these Pharisaical ‘teachers’: the style of the Gospel is a different style, that brings the fullness of the Law – yes- but in a new way: it is the new wine in new wineskins.”
Pope Francis concluded, saying once again that the Gospel is something new, something that brings joy, something that can only be lived fully by a heart that is joyful and renewed, and prayed that God give everyone the grace to keep the new commandment of love, and the joy of that freedom, which the Good News brings.