Are we open to the gift of God’s salvation, or do we prefer to take refuge in the safety of our man-made rules and regulations? That was the question Pope Francis posed during his homily at the morning Mass at Santa Marta on Friday.
God’s only wish, Pope Francis told his listeners, is to save his people, but so often we want to make the rules for our own salvation. This is the dramatic paradox of so many of the Bible stories which culminate in the life of Jesus himself.
Reflecting on the Gospel reading of the day, the Pope spoke of Jesus’ sadness at being rejected and ignored by his own people. “If the mighty deeds done in your midst had been done in Tyre and Sidon,” Jesus warns the people of Chorazin and Bethsaida, “they would long ago have repented.” Just as the prophets were rejected and killed by their people, so they do the same to Jesus. And it’s the leaders, the Pope said, who provoke this resistance to the salvation he’s offering:
It’s the ruling class which closes the door to God’s way of salvation, Pope Francis said. That’s why Jesus has such strong words with the leaders of his day – they argue, they try to trick him and catch him out because they are resisting his offer of salvation. Jesus says to them, “I don’t understand you! You are like those children who say ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn’. What do you want?” They want, the Pope said, to save themselves and remain closed to the way of the Lord.
This attitude, the Pope continued, is quite different from that of the people of God, who understand and accept salvation brought to them through Jesus. Their leaders, on the other hand, reduce salvation to the fulfilment of the 613 commandments they have created through their intellectual and theological fervor.
These leaders, the Pope said, don’t believe in mercy and forgiveness but simply in sacrifices. They want everything clearly sorted out and this is the drama of their resistance to salvation. Each one of us, he said, shares this drama and we should ask ourselves: How do I want to be saved? On my own? Through a spirituality which is good, but fixed and clear so that there are no risks? Or following the footsteps of Jesus who always surprises us, opening doors to that mystery of God’s mercy and pardon?
If I don’t follow Jesus but go looking for other gurus and seek refuge in man-made commandments, the Pope concluded, I may feel safe but the truth is I am buying my salvation, instead of receiving the free gift that God gives me.