FEBRUARY 9, 2014: FIFTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
If Pope Francis has demonstrated anything in the first year of his leadership it's the conviction that no Christian is dispensed from being another Christ. No matter our ministry, each of us is expected to daily imitate Jesus' dying and rising. We Catholics have traditionally cut our leaders lots of slack when it comes to their living the life Jesus lived. Few of us complain when many of them engage in economic and social lifestyles two or three rungs above our own. They're also automatically dispensed from Jesus' Matthean prohibition of his followers accepting honorary titles or "places of honor." We often presume they're in our midst simply to tell us what Jesus wants us to do, not to actually demonstrate in their own lives what Jesus wants us to do. Francis has turned that widely-accepted, but unchristian leadership model upside down. He simply puts into practice what our Christian sacred authors encourage all their readers to do.
Matthew's Jesus, for instance, expects all his followers to imitate him - no exceptions. He gives no one a free ride. After beginning his well-known - but rarely followed - Sermon on the Mount by clicking off the Beatitudes, this Galilean carpenter then reminds his listeners how essential they are in spreading his message of dying and rising. "You are the salt of the earth ... a city set on a mountain ... a lamp which gives light to all in the house." Only when people actually experience our good deeds do they "glorify your heavenly Father." It isn't because of what we say, it's because of what we do.
Paul reminds his Corinthian community that he actually said very little when he originally evangelized them. He certainly didn't employ many "persuasive words of wisdom." On the contrary, he tells his readers, "I came to you in weakness and fear and much trembling" If they eventually were to put faith in his words, they first had to experience the "power of God" at work in his actions. Since Paul "resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified," he had to show Jesus' dying and rising in the way he lived his own life.
As a good Jew, we presume one of the ways the Apostle concretely demonstrated the "mystery" he preached was by following Yahweh's Third-Isaiah command, "Share your bread with the hungry, shelter the oppressed and the homeless, clothe the naked when you see them, and do not turn your back on your own."
This unnamed prophet was convinced that Yahweh's people would only become what Jesus later called a "lamp which gives light to all" by removing from their midst "oppression, false accusation and malicious speech," by bestowing their "bread on the hungry and satisfying the afflicted." When that generous giving of themselves finally happens, then " a light will rise for (them) in the darkness, and the gloom become for (them) like midday." This longed-for transformation from darkness to light will happen only when we stop talking and begin to act.
That's why Francis has been a breath of fresh air. He, like Jesus, Paul and Third-Isaiah, leads by example. His words have force because his lifestyle has force. If he can do what he does in his position, then, no matter our position, we can follow suit.
Too bad we don't have a fourth reading today. If we did I'd recommend something from the late Father James Keller, founder of the Christophers, something which contained his most famous statement: "It's better to light one candle than to curse the darkness." It's good to have a pope who's a candle lighter.