“Be aware of this,” the Pope invited today: “Jesus does not stop at the adjectives. Jesus always seeks out the noun. ‘This person is a sinner, he’s that kind of person‘ — these are adjectives. Jesus goes to the person, to the heart, ‘This is a person, this is a man, this is a woman.’ Jesus goes to the subject, the noun, never the adjective. He leaves aside the adjectives.”
Thus Pope Francis explained that Jesus does not get stuck in our sins, even those things which others use to define us. Instead, he sees us as who we are, persons, made by Him and loved by Him.
The Holy Father offered that lesson at the general audience of January 11 by reflecting on the Gospel passage from which he drew his motto, the call of Matthew, found in Matthew 9:9-13)
“It all begins with Jesus, who, the text says, ‘sees a man,'” the Pope noted.
Few people saw Matthew as he was: They knew him as the one who was “sitting at the tax booth” (v. 9). He was, in fact, a tax collector: that is, someone who collected taxes on behalf of the Roman empire that occupied Palestine. In other words, he was a collaborator [of the empire], a traitor to the people. We can imagine the contempt the people felt for him: He was a “publican,” as they were called.
But for Jesus, in the eyes of Jesus, the Pope continued, “Matthew is a man, with both his miseries and his greatness.”
And Jesus doesn’t “stop at the adjectives” — he’s a sinner, he’s a publican, that kind. Instead, “Jesus goes to the person, to the heart.”
While there is distance between Matthew and his people – because they see the adjective, “publican” – Jesus draws near to Him, because every man is loved by God. […]
Indeed, the Gospel says He came for this very wretch: “I have come for sinners, not for the righteous.”
The gaze of Jesus is really beautiful. It sees the other, whoever he may be, as the recipient of love. It is the beginning of the evangelizing passion. Everything starts from this gaze, which we learn from Jesus.
Are we like Jesus?
The Pope invited the faithful to examine ourselves on this point. How do we look at others?
How often do we see their faults and not their needs; how often do we label people according to what they do or what they think! Even as Christians we say to ourselves: Is he one of us or not? This is not the gaze of Jesus: He always looks at each person with mercy and indeed with predilection. And Christians are called to do as Christ did, looking like Him especially at the so-called distant ones.
Matthew’s first response
Pope Francis went on to draw more from the text. After Jesus sees this man, Matthew, there is movement.
Matthew was sitting at the tax office; Jesus said to him: “Follow me.” And “he rose and followed Him” (v. 9).
We note that the text emphasises that “he rose.” Why is this detail so important? Because in those days he who was seated had authority over the others, who stood before him to listen to him or, as in that case, to pay tribute. He who sat, in short, had power. The first thing Jesus does is to detach Matthew from power: from sitting to receive others, He sets him in motion towards others, not receiving, no: he goes out to others.
Thus, Pope Francis said, Jesus has Matthew leave his position of supremacy for a position of service.
This is what Christ does, and this is fundamental for Christians: Do we disciples of Jesus, we Church, sit around waiting for people to come, or do we know how to get up, to set out with others, to seek others? Saying, “But let them come to me, I am here, let them come,” is a non-Christian position. No, you go to seek them out, you take the first step.
Where does Matthew go?
Finally, the Pope considered where Matthew goes.
We might imagine that, having changed the man’s life, the Master would lead him to new encounters, new spiritual experiences. No, or at least not immediately. First, Jesus goes to his home; there Matthew prepares “a great feast” for Him, in which “a large crowd of tax collectors” – that is, people like him – takes part (Lk 5:20).
Matthew returns to his environment, but he returns there changed and with Jesus. His apostolic zeal does not begin in a new, pure, place, an ideal place, far away, but instead he begins there where he lives, with the people he knows.
Here is the message for us: We do not have to wait until we are perfect and have come a long way following Jesus to bear witness to Him, no. Our proclamation begins today, there where we live. And it does not begin by trying to convince others, no, not to convince: by bearing every day to the beauty of the Love that has looked upon us and lifted us up. And it is this beauty, communicating this beauty that will convince people – not communicating ourselves but the Lord Himself. We are the ones who proclaim the Lord, we don’t proclaim ourselves, we don’t proclaim a political party, an ideology. No: we proclaim Jesus. We need to put Jesus in contact with the people, without convincing them but letting the Lord do the convincing.