Vatican City, Nov 6, 2014 / 10:12 am
In his homily on Thursday Pope Francis condemned those who are afraid "to dirty their hands" by welcoming sinners, and encouraged all to imitate Jesus – who gave everything in search of the lost.
"God is a Father and He goes to the very end to save us, to the limit. This is God's love," the Pope told those gathered in the Vatican's Saint Martha house for his Nov. 6 daily mass.
He centered his reflections on the day's Gospel passage taken from Luke, Chapter 15, in which Jesus tells the parables of the Good Shepherd who leaves the 99 sheep to find the one who is lost, and of the woman who loses a coin and rejoices upon finding it.
The Pope referred to how Jesus was condemned for speaking to the tax collectors and sinners who gathered around him in the Gospel, saying that although doing so was considered scandalous at the time, the reason Jesus came was to save those who had strayed from the Lord.
"God goes all the way, to the very limit, He always goes to the limit; He does not stop at the half way point on the journey of Salvation as if to say 'I did all I could, it's their problem,'" the pontiff said.
While the Pharisees and scribes were more concerned with balancing their gains and losses, it never enters the mind of God to say that although he lost three sheep, he gained much more.
This attitude is that of a "half-way shepherd," he observed, saying that it's sad to see both a pastor who opens the door of his church and stands there waiting for the sheep to come, as well as a Christian who doesn't feel the need to go out and tell others about the goodness of God.
"How much perversion there is in the hearts of those who think they are righteous, like these scribes, these Pharisees…they do not want to dirty their hands with sinners," the Pope lamented.
To be a half-way shepherd is a defeat, the Pope continued, because a true shepherd always has the heart of God and the zeal to ensure that no one is lost, which is why he is not afraid to "get his hands dirty."
"He risks his life, he risks his reputation, he risks losing his comforts, his status, even losing his ecclesiastical career, but he is the Good Shepherd," the Pope said, adding that even ordinary Christians are called to live in this way.
Although it is much easier to condemn others like the scribes and the Pharisees did, this attitude is not Christian, the Pope observed, noting that a true child of God mirrors the attitude of Jesus Christ, who went to the limit and gave his life for others.
Jesus, he said, "cannot be content keeping to himself: his comfort, his reputation, his peace of mind. Remember this: no half-way shepherds, never! No half-way Christians, never!"
The Pope referred to how the shepherd in the Gospel carries the lost sheep on his shoulders while returning to his flock, saying that the scribes and the Pharisees did not know what it was like to have this kind of joy or tenderness.
Although half-way Christians and pastors, who are like the Pharisees, might know what it means to have a sense of calm or peace, they don't know what it means to have the joy that comes from the heart of the Father who saves, the Pope concluded.
"This is so beautiful; do not be afraid that they badmouth us because we go to visit our brothers and sisters who are distant from the Lord," he said, and prayed, asking that the whole Church receive the grace to reach out to those who are lost.