Pope: Let’s not count the present, let’s look for the absent

On the second day of his apostolic journey to Malta, the Pope celebrated Mass in Florian, in the presence of around 20,000 believers and representatives of Christian churches and other religions: “At all times, there is danger of misunderstanding Jesus, even raising banners with the cross.”

Homily at Mass on Sunday April 3 in Malta


Jesus “entered the temple again in the morning, and all the people gathered around him”. (Jn 8, 2). Thus begins the episode of an adulteress. The background is calm: morning in a holy place, in the heart of Jerusalem. The protagonist is the people of God, who seek Jesus, the Master, in the courtyard of the temple: they want to listen to him, because what he says enlightens and warms them. His teaching is not abstract, it touches life and liberates it, transforms it, renews it. It is the “smell” of the people of God who are not content with a temple of stone, but gather around the person of Jesus. In these pages we will see the people of believers of all times, the holy people of God, who here in Malta are numerous and alive, faithful in their search for the Lord, united by a concrete and lived faith. Thanks for that.

Before the people flocking to him, Jesus does not hurry: “He sat down, spoke the gospel, and began to teach them” (v. 2). But there are empty seats in the school of Jesus. Missing: wife and her prosecutors. They did not go to the Master like the others, and the reasons for their absence are different: the scribes and the Pharisees think that they already know everything that they do not need the teachings of Jesus; a woman, on the other hand, is a lost man who has gone astray and is looking for happiness on the wrong path. Their absence is therefore due to different motivations, as well as to a different outcome of their story. Let us stop at these absentees.

Especially the accusations of women. We see in them the image of those who boast of being righteous, of keeping the law of God, and of being good and decent. They do not pay attention to their own mistakes, but look very carefully for the mistakes of others. Thus, they follow Jesus: not with an open heart to hear him, but “to try him and have reason to accuse him” (v. 6). It is an intention that reveals the hearts of those cultured and pious people who know the scriptures, attend the temple, but submit everything to their own interests and do not fight against the evil thoughts that arise in their hearts. In the eyes of men, they seem to be knowers of God, but they do not recognize Jesus themselves, on the contrary, they see in him an enemy who must be removed. To this end they put a person before him as if it were a thing, contemptuously calling her “that woman” and publicly condemning her adultery. They press for the woman to be stoned and pour out their opposition to Jesus’ compassion. They do all this under cover of their reputation as pious people.

Brothers and sisters, these characters tell us that even the hypocrisy of verse and the vice of pointing fingers can creep into our religiosity. At any age, in any community. There is always a danger that we misinterpret Jesus, that we have his name on our lips, but in reality we deny him. And this can be done by hanging banners with a cross. So how can we verify that we are disciples in the Master’s school? Our point of view, the way we look at our neighbors and the way we look at ourselves. This is the point that defines our belonging.

According to the way we look at our neighbours: whether we do what Jesus shows us today, with a view to mercy, or condemnation, sometimes even contempt, like the accusers of the Gospel who stand in the role followers of God but do not realize that they are walking their brothers and sisters. Those who believe they are defending the faith by pointing fingers at others may have a religious outlook, but they do not represent the spirit of the gospel because they forget the mercy that is the heart of God.

To understand whether we are true disciples of Master, we also need to check how we perceive ourselves. Those who blame the woman are convinced that they have nothing to learn. In fact, their outer apparatus is perfect, but they lack the truth of the heart. They are the portrait of those believers who, at all times, make a facade of faith, where only the ceremonial appearance stands out, but there is no inner poverty, which is the most precious treasure of the man. In fact, the will of those who do not feel perfect but need salvation is important to Jesus. It is therefore good to ask ourselves when we pray and attend beautiful offices if we are in harmony with the Lord. We can ask him directly: “Jesus, I am here with you, but what do you expect of me? What do you want me to change in my heart, in my life? How do you want me to see others? It will be good to pray like this, because the Master is not satisfied with appearances, but seeks the truth from the heart. And when we truly open our hearts to him, he can work miracles in us.

We see it in the example of an adulteress. His situation seems threatened, but new horizons unthinkable up to now open up to his eyes. Overwhelmed with insults, ready to accept irreconcilable words and severe punishments, she saw with astonishment that God freed her and opened up an unexpected future for her: “Has no one condemned you? Jesus said to him, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on you will sin no more” (vv. 10.11). What a difference between the Master and the accusers! They quote the Scriptures to condemn it; if it is not motivated by love and does not contain love, disturbs the one who receives it, but God always leaves the possibility open and always knows how to find ways of deliverance and salvation.

Forgiveness changed a woman’s life. Mercy and misery have met. Mercy and misery. And the woman will change. One might even think that when Jesus forgave her, she learned to forgive. She may no longer see her accusers as harsh and wicked people, but as those who allowed her to meet Jesus. The Lord wants us, his disciples, as a forgiven Church, to become tireless witnesses of reconciliation: witnesses of God for whom there is no word “incorrigible”; A God who forgives always, always. God always forgives. It is we who are tired of asking for forgiveness. A God who still believes in us and always gives us a chance to start over. There is no sin or failure which, when brought to him, can become an opportunity to begin a different new life in mercy. There is no sin that cannot follow this path. God forgives everything. All.

It’s the Lord Jesus. He is truly known to those who experience his forgiveness. Those who, like a woman in the gospel, discover that God visits us through our inner wounds. This is where the Lord loves to be present, because he did not come for the healthy but for the sick (cf. Mt 9:12). And it is this woman, who knew mercy in her misery and who goes towards a world healed by the forgiveness of Jesus, who today, as a church, suggests that we return to the school of gospel, in the school of the God of hope, who always surprises. If we imitate him, we will not focus on condemning sins, but will seek out sinners in love. We will not count the present, but we will look for the absent. We won’t go back to the tally, but we’ll start listening. We will not reject the despised, but we will speak first to those who are considered the last. This is what Jesus teaches us, brothers and sisters, by example. Let us marvel at it and accept its novelty with joy.

Translated by Petr Vacik

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