(Vatican Radio) People follow Jesus because they recognize that He is the Good Shepherd. That was Pope Francis’ message at Mass on Thursday morning at the Casa Santa Marta. He warned against those who reduce the faith to moralism, pursue a political liberation, or seek deals with power.
In his homily, the Holy Father referred to a kind of “casistica” – literally, “casuistry” – which we have translated as “moralistic quibbling,” the closest English equivalent to the Pope’s meaning.
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Why do so many people follow Jesus? That was the question Pope Francis asked in his homily, which centred on the people and the teaching of the Lord. The crowds, he said, followed Jesus because “they were astonished by His teaching,” His words “brought wonder to their hearts, the wonder of finding something good, great.” Other people “were speaking, but they did not reach the people.” The Pope mentioned four groups of people that were speaking at the time of Jesus. The first of these was the Pharisees. The Pharisees, he said, were making religion and the worship of God a chain of commandments, turning the Ten Commandments into “more than three hundred,” loading “this weight” on the backs of the people. It was, the Pope said, “a reduction of the faith in the Living God” to a kind of “casuistry” or quibbling. And there were also “contradictions of the cruelest kind of moralistic quibbling”:
“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 people respect them [the Pharisees], because the people are respectful. They respected them, but they didn’t listen to them! They went about their business [se ne andava]…”
Another group was the Sadducees. Pope Francis said the Sadducees “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.”
A third group was the “revolutionaries,” or the zealots, who “wanted to cause a revolution to free the people of Israel from the Roman occupation.” The people, though, had good sense, and knew to distinguish when the fruit was ripe and when it was not! And they didn’t follow them.”
Pope Francis then spoke about the fourth group, who were called the Essenes and were “good people.” They were monks who consecrated their lives to God – but, he warned, “they were far from the people, and the people couldn’t follow them.”
These, the Pope said, “were the voices that reached the people, and none of these voices had the power to warm the hearts of the people – But Jesus did! The crowds were amazed: They heard Jesus and their hearts were warmed. The message of Jesus reached to the heart.” Jesus, Pope Francis said, “approached to the people,” He “healed the heart of the people,” He “understood their difficulties.” Jesus, he continued, “was not ashamed to speak with sinners, He went out to find them,” Jesus “felt joy, He was happy to be with His people.” And this is why Jesus is “the Good Shepherd,” the sheep hear His voice and follow Him:
“And this is why the people followed Jesus, because He was the Good Shepherd. He 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, or 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 never trafficked in the things of God! But He spoke in such a way that the people loved the things of God. That’s why they followed Him.”
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 so 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:
“Whom 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? Whom do I like to follow?”
“May this question,” Pope Francis concluded, “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.”