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Jesus Risked Scandal to Embrace Society’s Outcasts, Pope Tells New Cardinals

Diane Montagna - published on 02/16/15

Invites the faithful to encounter Jesus through Confession

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Pope Francis Sunday presented his vision for the Church to 20 new Cardinals, by underlining three themes that are clearly close to his heart: the compassion of Jesus, going out to the marginalized, and reinstating them in the family of God.

Addressing the College of Cardinals at Holy Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica on Sunday, the Pope pointed to the day’s Gospel of the healing of the leper as a lesson on the nature and depth of Jesus’ compassion, and his desire to reinstate the marginalized.

“The compassion of Jesus! That compassion which made him draw near to every person in pain,” he said. “Jesus does not hold back; instead, he gets involved in people’s pain and their need… for the simple reason that he knows and wants to show compassion, because he has a heart unashamed to have ‘compassion’”.

He continued: “Compassion leads Jesus to concrete action: he reinstates the marginalized! These are the three key concepts that the Church proposes in today’s liturgy of the word: the compassion of Jesus in the face of marginalization and his desire to reinstate.”

Under the Mosaic law, the pontiff explained, lepers experienced deep suffering and shame. They also inspired “fear, contempt and loathing, and so they are abandoned by their families, shunned by other persons, cast out by society.” 

Society rejected them, he said, and forced them to “live apart from the healthy." It excluded them. “So much so that if a healthy person approached a leper, he would be punished severely, and often be treated as a leper himself.”

Pope Francis suggested that, under the Old Law, this rule was kept as a “safeguard for the healthy." The diseased person was treated harshly, he said, to protect those who were well.

Yet Jesus “revolutionizes and upsets that fearful, narrow and prejudiced mentality,” he said. “He does not abolish the law of Moses, but rather brings it to fulfillment (cf. Mt 5:17).”

How? “By stating," he said, "that God is not pleased by a Sabbath observance which demeans or condemns a man. He does so by refusing to condemn the sinful woman, but saves her from the blind zeal of those prepared to stone her ruthlessly in the belief that they were applying the law of Moses." 

“Jesus, the new Moses, wanted to heal the leper. He wanted to touch him and restore him to the community without being ‘hemmed in’ by prejudice, conformity to the prevailing mindset or worry about becoming infected.” 

That is why Jesus responds immediately to the leper’s plea, Pope Francis continued, “without waiting to study the situation and all its possible consequences! For Jesus, what matters above all is reaching out to save those far off, healing the wounds of the sick, restoring everyone to God’s family! And this is scandalous to some people!”

But Jesus was not afraid of this sort of scandal, the Pope said, since his primary concern was “to reinstate the outcast, to save those outside the camp (cf. Jn 10).”

The 78-year-old pontiff then suggested that there are “two ways of thinking and of having faith: we can fear to lose the saved and we can want to save the lost.” 

“Even today it can happen that we stand at the crossroads of these two ways of thinking. The thinking of the doctors of the law, which would remove the danger by casting out the diseased person, and the thinking of God, who in his mercy embraces and accepts by reinstating him and turning evil into good, condemnation into salvation and exclusion into proclamation.”

And yet, Pope Francis said: “The way of the Church is precisely to leave her four walls behind and to go out in search of those who are distant, those on the ‘outskirts’ of life. It is to adopt fully God’s own approach, to follow the Master who said: ‘Those who are well have no need of the physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call, not the righteous but sinners to repentance’” (Lk 5:31-32).

“In a word,” he said, “charity cannot be neutral, indifferent, lukewarm or impartial! Charity is infectious, it excites, it risks and it engages! For true charity is always unmerited, unconditional and gratuitous!" (cf. 1 Cor 13). 

Contact is the true language of communication, the same endearing language which brought healing to the leper. How many healings can we perform if only we learn this language! The leper, once cured, became a messenger of God’s love. The Gospel tells us that “he went out and began to proclaim it freely and to spread the word” (cf. Mk 1:45).

Yet for one who is living in sin, true reinstatement into God’s family requires true and humble repentance. In his Angelus address following Mass, the Pope explained that the “place” where Jesus truly draws near to us, touches us, and makes us clean is the Sacrament of Confession, which heals God’s repentent children “from the leprosy of sin.” 

Pope Francis then urged the assembled cardinals “to serve the Church in such a way that Christians — edified by our witness — will not be tempted to turn to Jesus without turning to the outcast, to become a closed caste with nothing authentically ecclesial about it." 

“I urge you to serve Jesus crucified in every person who is marginalized, for whatever reason; to see the Lord in every excluded person who is hungry, thirsty, naked; to see the Lord present even in those who have lost their faith, or turned away from the practice of their faith; to see the Lord who is imprisoned, sick, unemployed, persecuted; to see the Lord in the leper — whether in body or soul — who encounters discrimination.” 

The Pope concluded his homily to the new cardinals by holding up the example of Saint Francis, who “was unafraid to embrace the leper and to accept every kind of outcast."

"Truly," Pope Francis said, "the Gospel of the marginalized is where our credibility is found and revealed.”

Diane Montagna is Rome correspondent for Aleteia’s English edition.

Pope FrancisVatican
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