One of the many things I love about St. Francis was the way he could follow the Gospel so completely and yet not judge others for their failures. He said: “I warn all the friars and exhort them not to condemn or look down on people whom they see wearing soft or gaudy clothes and enjoying luxuries in food or drink; each one should rather condemn and despise himself” (Rule of 1223). That, too, is part of following the Gospel.
Nowhere is this more clear than in last Sunday’s Gospel passage (Luke 7:36—8:3). Jesus is criticized for showing mercy to a woman who was “known to be a sinner.” People in the town saw only her sin. Jesus saw beyond the sin to a potential for healing and redemption. Simon the Pharisee, in whose house this display took place, was shocked, dismayed, and disapproving. He saw only what he wanted to see. He didn’t see his own failure to provide basic hospitality to his guest. He didn’t see how much he was reserving judgment on Jesus until he was sure he was backing the right man. That kind of caution is not always a virtue.
For Holy Thursday this year, newly elected Pope Francis celebrated the Mass of the Lord’s Supper in a juvenile correctional facility, where he washed the feet of twelve young offenders: male and female, black and white, Christian and Muslim. He emphasized that this action was a sign of humility and service, a reminder of Christ’s example. Above all, he wanted to convey to these young people (and through his actions, to us) the importance of mercy and of hope. Many people were shocked by this departure from tradition by the pope. Some went so far as to call it a bad example for a pope to set. Others were delighted at the pope’s willingness to reach beyond categories and expectations. His behavior certainly wasn’t without precedent.
Everyone makes mistakes. Everyone sins. There’s no real shame in that. Jesus came to show us that not having the courage to admit our mistakes and move on is the greater fault, as is the failure to show mercy to others. His example, held up to us again by Pope Francis, challenges us to move beyond the boundaries of decorum to the wonder of unbounded grace.
Photo: CNS/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters