“If you had believed Moses, you would have believed me, because he wrote about me” (John 5:26).
It is not hard to see in the current criticism of Pope Francis by some in the hierarchy for his nuanced and compassionate approach to divorced and remarried couples some of the same themes found in today’s gospel reading.
The scribes and Pharisees attacked Jesus for healing people on the Sabbath. If he interpreted the law differently or put people ahead of the letter of the law, he must be a heretic, and he certainly cannot be from God!
In today’s standoff in the church, one prominent American cardinal has even suggested that Pope Francis could receive a “formal correction” for his emphasis on pastoral discernment in these difficult cases of couples in second marriages seeking communion.
Jesus preached brilliantly, performed many miracles of healing and exhibited a holiness ordinary people recognized as genuine. But the religious leaders only saw their authority as being challenged. They were the experts at interpreting the Law of Moses, not this hill country preacher from Galilee.
Jesus challenges this directly, saying that these so-called leaders claim to know the scriptures, yet do not know its central message of divine mercy. Moses himself will condemn them for their pride and blindness.
Critics of Pope Francis quote abstract principles and abstruse theological arguments to support their positions, but seldom cite the example of Jesus in the scriptures. He knew the law, but he always applied it according to the higher Law of Love. He scandalized the righteous people of his day by eating with sinners, welcoming the weak and the imperfect, making mercy the one quality that most reveals the face of God.
Our Lenten journey takes us beyond the clearly defined road and signposts that reassure us we are heading the right way. With Jesus, we now break fresh ground across trackless desert wastes. The letter of the law cannot guide us in every situation, only the presence of the spirit in our hearts. This is the only compass that is true and trustworthy.
Jesus is heading into controversy and condemnation. Either we turn back or we continue with him. If we keep our eyes on the prize – Jesus himself – we will never lose our way. Easter lies ahead, but first we will enter the fog of Jerusalem and the dark night of Golgatha. Step by step, let us finish the journey we began.