VATICAN CITY — “We are all invited to the Lord’s table,” Pope Francis said in his first general audience since the release of “Amoris Laetitia.” But what God wants is “the loyalty of a heart that recognizes its sins, repents and returns to being faithful to God’s covenant.”
Continuing his catechesis on mercy in the Sacred Scripture, the pope today considered the Gospel account of the calling of St. Matthew (Matt. 9:9-13).
Jesus not only invites a tax-collector, a public sinner, to be his disciple, but also sits at table with him, thus scandalizing the Pharisees, the pope told pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square. But the Lord explains that he has come to call not the righteous but sinners, saying: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.”
Jesus comes as the Divine Physician to heal us, Pope Francis said, and “no sinner is excluded” because “God’s healing power knows no illness that cannot be cured.” This, he said, “should give us confidence, and open our hearts to the Lord to come and heal us.”
“In the Christian community,” the pope continued, “the table of Jesus is twofold: there is the table of the Word, and there is the table of the Eucharist (cf. Dei Verbum 21). These are the medicines, he said, with which the Divine Physician heals us and feeds us.
“His Word penetrates us, and like a scalpel, operating deep within us to free us from the evil that takes root in our lives,” he said. “Sometimes this Word is painful because it cuts into hypocrisy, unmasks false excuses and exposes the hidden truth. But, at the same time, it enlightens and purifies, gives strength and hope, is a valuable refreshment on our journey of faith.”
The Eucharist, Pope Francis said, “nourishes us with the very life of Jesus and, as a powerful remedy, in a mysterious way continually renews the grace of our baptism.” In approaching the Eucharist, he said, “we nourish ourselves with the body and blood of Jesus, and yet, in coming into us, it is Jesus who unites us with his body.”
The Pharisees were formally very religious, he noted, but were unwilling to share table with publicans and sinners, because they did not recognize the possibility of repentance and, thus, of healing.
Here below we publish an English translation of the pope’s address.
I desire mercy and not sacrifice.—Matt. 9:13
Dear brothers and sisters,
We heard the Gospel of the call of Matthew. Matthew was a “publican”; that is, a tax collector for the Roman Empire, and he was therefore considered a public sinner. But Jesus called him to follow him and become his disciple. Matthew agrees, and he invites him to dinner at his house along with his disciples. A discussion then arises between the Pharisees and Jesus’ disciples over the fact that they share table with tax collectors and sinners. “But you cannot go to the homes of these people,” they say. Jesus, in fact, does not alienate them; indeed, he visits their homes and sits beside them. This means that they too can become his disciples.
It is equally true that being Christian does not make us flawless. Like the publican Matthew, each of us relies on the Lord’s grace despite his sins. We are all sinners; we have all sinned. In calling Matthew, Jesus shows sinners that he does not look at their past, at their social condition, at external conventions, but rather opens to them a new future.
I once heard a beautiful saying: “There is no saint without a past and there is no sinner without a future.” This is beautiful. This is what Jesus does. There is no saint without a past nor sinner without a future. It’s enough to respond to the invitation with a humble and sincere heart. The Church is not a community of the perfect, but disciples on the way, who follow the Lord because they recognize that they are sinners in need of his forgiveness. The Christian life, therefore, is a school of humility that opens us to grace.
Such behavior is not understood by those who have the presumption to believe they are “righteous” and to think they are better than others. Arrogance and pride do not allow us to see our need for salvation; in fact, they prevent us from seeing the merciful face of God and acting mercifully. They are a wall. Arrogance and pride are a wall that impede a relationship with God. And yet Jesus’ mission is precisely this: to come searching for each of us, to heal our wounds and call us to follow him with love.