· The Pope's Mass at Santa Marta ·
In his homily at Mass on Tuesday, 14 January, Pope Francis commented on the the readings of the day taken from the first Book of Samuel (1:9-20) and from the Gospel of Mark (1:21b-28). The Pope noted that the readings contain “four models of preachers: Jesus, the scribes, Eli the priest and behind him … and the two sons of Eli who were priests”.
The scribes taught and preached by placing great burdens on the shoulders of the people. “And the poor people,” the Pope said, “could not go forward”. Jesus reproves them for not moving a finger to help the people. And he says to the people: “Practice and observer whatever they tell you, but not what they do”. The Pope described the scribes as inconsistent people who acted as though “they were cudgelling the people”. Jesus admonished them, the Pope said, telling them: “you shut the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither enter yourselves, nor allow those who would enter to go in”. “And how many there are who believe this is what faith is,” the Pope lamented.
Pope Francis then reflected on Eli. “He was a poor, old man” he said, “but I have a certain affection for him. He was not truly a good man: he was a poor priest, weak, lukewarm and he let things go, he wasn't strong. He let his sons get away with many unpleasant things”. The Pope noted Eli's mistaking Hannah for a drunken woman, as she was praying in silence, only moving her lips as she asked the Lord for the gift of a child. “She was praying as humble people do, simply, from the heart, with anguish and moving her lips. Many good women pray in our churches and shrines in this way. And this is how she was praying, asking for a miracle. And the aged Eli, poor old man, had nothing to do. He observed her, thinking: this is a drunken woman. And he looked down on her. He was the representative of the faith “who should have taught the faith, but “he looked down on this woman” the Pope said. “He tells her: go away, drunken woman!”.
How many times do God's people feel unloved by those who should bear witness to the faith, by Christians, by lay Christians, by priests, by bishops!”. Returning to Eli, Pope Francis explained why he has a certain sympathy for him: “because in his heart he still had the anointing. When the woman explains her situation to him, Eli tells her: 'Go in peace, and the God of Israel grant your petition which you have made to him'. His priestly anointing comes forth. Poor man, he had it hidden under his laziness. He was lukewarm, and it ends badly. Poor man!”
The Pope then turned reflected on Eli's sons. His sons are not seen, the Pope observed, but they were charged with managing the temple. “They were brigands. They were priests, but they were brigands. They went after power and money; they exploited the people, they profited from alms and gifts. The Bible says they took the best pieces of the sacrifices for themselves to eat. They were exploiters. The Lord severely punished these two!”
Pope Francis likened the sons of Eli to “the corrupt Christian, the corrupt layperson, the corrupt priest, the corrupt bishop. They take advantage of the situation, of the privilege of faith, of being Christians. And their hearts become corrupt. We think of Judas: perhaps he began through jealousy and envy to put his hand in the purse” and “thus his heart began to become corrupted. John – the good Apostle who loved the whole world, who preached love – says of Judas: he is a thief. Full stop. It's clear: he was corrupt. And from a corrupt heart betrayal also comes. He betrays Jesus”.
Lastly, Pope Francis commented on Jesus' way of preaching. What was so special about his preaching? For the Gospel says that the people “were astonished by his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes”. Jesus, the Pope said, taught the Law, he taught Moses and the Prophets. So what was so new? He had power, the power of holiness, for unclean spirits flee from him. He is close to sinners, he dines with Matthew, a robber, a traitor to the homeland; he forgives the adulterous woman whom the law would have published; he talks about theology with the Samaritan who was no “angel”, she had her story”. Jesus “looked into people's hearts, Jesus drew near to people's wounded hearts. Jesus was only interested in the person and in God. And he sought to bring God close to people and people close to God”.
The Pope continued: “Jesus is like the Good Samaritan who heals the wounds of life. Jesus is the intercessor who goes away alone to pray on the mountain for people, and he gives his life for people. Jesus wants the people to draw close and he seeks them out; and he is moved when he sees them like sheep without a shepherd. And all of this is what the people describe as a new attitude. No, it is not a new teaching, it is a way of making it new. Evangelical transparency”.
“Let us ask the Lord ,” Pope Francis concluded, “that these two readings may help us in our Christian lives not to become corrupt like the sons of Eli; not to be lukewarm like Eli; but to be like Jesus, with that zeal to seek out people, to heal people, to love people”.
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