There is so much to admire in Pope Francis, not the least is his humanity.
We appreciate it when our Prime Minister travels by tram in Melbourne or by ferry in Sydney, how much more when a worldwide leader, after addressing the US Congress, steps away from the politician and has lunch with the poor. “Closeness to the poor, the refugee, the immigrant, the sick, the exploited, the elderly living alone, prisoners and all God’s other poor, will teach us a different way of resting, one which is more Christian and generous” the Pope said.
Francis’ kindness and pastoral concerns are refreshing, in the name of the Lord Jesus who became flesh and pitched his tent among us, His pastoral under-shepherds must reach out to, and be with, people of need.
The Lord Jesus mixed like that, the worst his enemies could say against him was that he ate with the wrong kinds of people. He mixed with wealthy tax collectors and sinners, because he recognised their deep spiritual poverty, his concern, as the Spiritual physician, was to reach the sick, those far away from God, and to do all he could to bring them to eternal health. His repeated message was Repent, the Kingdom is near because the King is near.
I trust that Pope Francis takes his opportunities, in the midst of encouraging relief and aid, to speak about the fact that the God who made us, loves us and has sent His Son to rescue us.
According to the Roman church, the Pope is the successor of Peter, the apostle.
In Acts 4, the apostles Peter and John, stand before the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling council and are commanded no longer to speak in the name of Jesus (v17 – 18). Peter had said that apart from faith in Jesus, there is no possibility of salvation (v12) and in response to the Sanhedrin’s threats, he says “we can’t help speaking of what we have seen and heard” (v20), such was Peter’s zeal to speak of Jesus the Saviour.
In his historic speech to the joint meeting of Congress, where he had freedom to say whatever he liked, and address the nation (google the speech and read it for yourself), I found disappointment, not for what Francis said, he spoke of the law of Moses, of God, of life, respect and family, I was disappointed because of what the Pope did not say. He made no mention of Jesus, no mention of heaven, hell, judgement, grace, redemption, repentance or forgiveness. All the elements of God’s momentous message to the world were completely ignored. This is tragic, from any Christian leader and particularly one who leads 1.2 billion people.
Admittedly, the apostle Paul made no mention of Jesus specifically, when he addressed the Areopagus in Athens in Acts 17. Yet Paul exposed their upside down theological thinking (v24 -30), called on them to repent (v31) and warned them of God’s judgement day coming and spoke of the proof of this, in that God had raised the man he had appointed judge, from the dead (v31). The response to the apostolic message that day, was sneering and enquiry (v32) but for Dionysius, Damaris and a number of others, repentance and belief, for them it was a never to be forgotten day.
We are called to be salt and light, identification and solidarity are not enough, acts of love, aid and relief, important as they are, are not enough, engaging, persuasive speech of God’s compelling message is the way of the apostle and the way of the Lord Jesus Christ, “the Son of Man, he said, came to seek and to save what was lost” (Luke 19:10).
God bless America indeed, and Australia and all of us, but God’s greatest blessing on us is that the drought of hearing God’s words will end, that the nations will hear the clear clarion call again, “Repent, come to me, said Jesus, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:28).