I am a hardcore Catholic and I want to love Pope Francis. But, when I see the pictures of him in Palestine embracing Muslims, I worry. Isn’t he giving the impression that he approves of Islam? Isn’t he embracing moral relativism? Couldn’t these actions be misunderstood?
Wondering in Washington
When Pope Francis embraces a Muslim, he isn’t embracing moral relativism, he’s embracing a person, a person created and loved by God. An embrace isn’t necessarily an endorsement of a creed or even a set of talking points. It is often the way we say, “Welcome,” or “I’m glad you’re here,” or “You are my friend” or “I don’t have words for this circumstance, but I can at least give you a hug.”
Since we’re reading from Matthew’s gospel this year, let’s begin there. When Jesus heard the plea of the centurion and healed the soldier’s daughter (Matt. 8: 5b-13) do you think he was issuing an endorsement of Roman military policy? Or do you think he was seeing a frightened father seeking help for his suffering child?
In the gospels we find Jesus dining and talking with, healing and welcoming men and women his own disciples considered “Other” and “Alien.”
When Jesus called the tax collector, Matthew, (Matthew 9: 9-13) and then went to dinner in his house, do you think he was endorsing Roman tax policy in occupied lands? Or do you think he called and then embraced a man, named Matthew, in whom Jesus could see something that I doubt any of us would want or try to see?
When Jesus spoke with the Samaritan woman (John 4: 4-40), do you think he was taking sides in the ancient disputes between the Jews and the Samaritans? John tells us the divide was so great that the woman herself is shocked when Jesus asks for a drink of water, for, John writes, “Jews use nothing in common with Samaritans.” But Jesus hasn’t come to talk religious and cultural differences. He has come to meet this woman, in this time and in this place, and offer to her the water of eternal life.
In gospels that are marked by their economy, we find Jesus, again and again, dining and talking with, healing and welcoming men and women his own disciples considered “Other” and “Alien.” But God’s creation and God’s creatures are not “Other” to their creator. They are beloved.
Sounds like Pope Francis is following the Boss’s orders. Then, what happens next? Well, we’ll see. But do you ever wonder what would have happened to Matthew if Jesus hadn’t spoken to him first?
Thanks for asking, Wondering. I hope this helps.