Jesus’ injunctions to us are predicated on our new life in him, as St Paul makes clear. The Law cannot save us. We can keep every jot and tittle of it, but that does not save us. We cannot be saved unto eternal life through being a ‘good person’ – if all our efforts are thus directed we gain not life, but death. If we have new life in Christ, then being in the love of God, if we are rude to someone, we will feel bad about it; our new life in Jesus does not make us perfect, but it does infuse us with God’s love; we do not act differently – we are different. Jesus did not judge the woman taken in adultery, he called her to new life by turning from her sins to him; he did not condemn the woman at the well for having had five husbands, he called her to redemption through the living water of his love.
If we look at the attitude evinced by Jesus to the hot ethical issues of his day, we do not find him making the sort of judgments the Pharisees made. On divorce, where there were discussions within Judaism on the proper grounds for it, and for deciding whether a marriage had even existed, Jesus did not say that the Jewish equivalent of what Christians call Canon law should be followed – he cut through our human reasoning – that has not stopped mankind trying to find ways of avoiding what he said by finding ways of saying a marriage never existed. When Pharisees tried to involve him in political arguments about what sort of duty the Jews owed to the civil government, again, he cut through their sophistry. On the rules covering adultery, Jesus simply, again, refused to be drawn into condemning the woman, even though the Law was utterly clear on what should be done. Neither was he over-exercised about what the Law said could and could not be done on the Sabbath. It is easy to see why the religious leaders of his own community came to hate him and wanted him killed. Time after time Jesus confronts these leaders with a message which amounts to ‘who are you to judge?’
Pope Francis seems to arouse the same sort of hatred from the same type of person who hated Jesus. He, like Christ, talks a lot about love and mercy and living a new life, and he spends little time condemning others; those who find in their religion an excuse to condemn those sinners over there, naturally find this abhorrent – it vitiates the whole purpose of their religion. Do these people do what Jesus would have done and what Francis tries to do? Do they take in refugees? Do they welcome the prostitutes, the modern equivalent of the tax collectors, do they embrace without judging the marginalised in our society. Or are they, like the Pharisees, on high alert to see if someone disobeys a rubric or breaches canon law, and to point out when they do not come up to the level of behaviour their church demands. Where does Jesus say that he will only love the repentant prostitute, tax collector or sinner? where does he say that only when they have purged their behaviour will he love them? He proceeds, as God, knowing that love will redeem them – love them, make them a new creation in Him, and that will begin to affect all aspects of their lives.
Too often our churches put the cart before the horse. We would like the sinners to repent before we love them, so we imagine that is what Jesus must have meant really. No, his message is far more radical than that, and very discomforting for those who see in Christianity a moral code akin to the Torah. If we find these considerations are top of our list, then we might ask why? There is nothing wrong in wanting people to behave better and in wanting people to know who the real Jesus is, but of this is where we find our religious action, we might ask why we are finding it necessary to hide from the radicalism of the way Jesus shows us?
Quiavideruntoculi, as ever, exemplifies this way of thinking, as this comment on my post yesterday shows:
The Church only refuses communion to those in public sin. Being fat is not, by itself, proof that someone is an unrepentant glutton, or that he ever was a glutton (though I accept that almost everyone commits the venial sin of gluttony). Being in a homosexual “marriage” IS proof that one is an unrepentant sodomite. Sodomy is a mortal sin.
There were have it, let us split sins into two, let us decide to condemn a sin which afflicts the few, and excuse one which afflicts the many, and let us judge as though we were God Himself. In none of his (more than 3000 C tells me) comments is there the slightest trace of any notion that as a forgiven sinner himself, he might begin by embracing and loving his fellow sinners. Perhaps he feels that by behaving well he is no longer a sinner. It is not the Law that saves. As we judge, by that measure shall we be judged. Are we without sin that we condemn another? Are we God that we can judge what is in their hearts? Or, having eaten of the fruit of the tree of Good and Evil, are we presuming to do what God alone can do – and following through on the consequences of the sin which led to the Fall of mankind?