Pope Francis: Be True Witnesses, Not ‘Pure Legalists’

In his homily for Tuesday, Pope Francis reflected on four different models of Christian witness and told the faithful to observe closely how Jesus loves and heals others.

Pope Francis
Pope Francis (photo: Kyle Burkhart/CNA)

VATICAN CITY — In his daily homily on Tuesday, Pope reflected on different models of Christian witness, warning the faithful to guard against hypocrisy when they evangelize and encouraging them to imitate Jesus.

“Let us ask the Lord that these two readings help us in our lives as Christians,” said the Pope in reference to the day’s Scripture passages, encouraging the faithful to learn “not to be pure legalists, hypocrites, like the scribes and Pharisees … but to be like Jesus, with that zeal to seek people.”

During his Jan. 14 homily given in the Vatican’s St. Martha guesthouse, Pope Francis used the characters in the day’s readings to develop the theme of Christian witness, highlighting how the attitudes portrayed display four different types of believers.

Focusing on Eli, the priest from the first reading, his sons, who were also priests, the scribes and Jesus, the Holy Father said the Lord’s attitude is one of teaching with authority, while the others bound their people with heavy burdens.

“It is Jesus himself who says that [the scribes] did not move these things even with a finger, right?” the Pope said, “And then [Jesus] will say to people: ‘Do what they say but not what they do.’”

The scribes, Pope Francis noted, are “incoherent people,” adding that it often seems “that these scribes and Pharisees are always beating on the [regular folks].”

However, the Holy Father explained that “Jesus told them … that, in this way, they closed the door to the Kingdom of heaven [as if to say], ‘You don’t let others enter, and so neither will you yourselves gain entrance.’”

“This is how some people teach, preach and witness the faith … and how many people out there think that the faith really is as they present it,” the Pope said.

Pope Francis then recalled the attitude of Eli in the first reading, when he saw Hannah in the Temple begging for a son, and, at first thinking her drunk, he told her to go away.

This attitude, Pope Francis noted, represents that of the “salesman” or the “manager” of the faith, revealing a priest whose heart is not truly in what he does.

“How many times,” the Pope said, “do God’s people feel themselves unloved by those who ought to give witness: by Christians — by lay faithful, by priests, by bishops?”

“Why, then, do I have some sympathy for this man [Eli]?” asked the Pope. “Because, in his heart, he still had the anointing, because when the woman explains her situation, Eli says, ‘Go in peace, and the God of Israel grant you what you asked for.’”

“The priestly anointing comes out in the end,” the Pope said. “He had hidden it inside his laziness, poor man, a lukewarm man, and it ends badly for him, poor fellow.”

Turning to Eli’s sons, Pope Francis explained that, after the scribes and their father Eli, they represent a third model of a believer. He referred to them as “brigands,” who “were priests,” but shirked their duties in order to chase after power and money.

These men exploited their people and took advantage of the alms given, said the Pope, stating that they, like Judas, are an image of the corrupt Christian, who betrays Jesus, and, in the end, are punished severely by the Lord.


The Witness of Jesus Christ

Pope Francis then noted that, in contrast to the former three, the fourth and final model of witness is Jesus himself, who teaches others by the power and authority of his own holiness and by being close to his people, especially to sinners.

Pointing to how Jesus pardons the adulteress and converses with the Samaritan woman at the well in the Gospels as examples, the Pope explained that the Lord genuinely seeks to heal the wounded.

“Let us ask the Lord that these two readings help us in our lives as Christians,” he prayed. “Let us not be corrupt like the sons of Eli, nor be lukewarm as Eli himself,” but “to be like Jesus, with that zeal to seek people, heal people, to love people.”

In concluding his homily, Pope Francis encouraged those in attendance, with the attitude of Jesus, to say to others, “‘But if I do this tiny little thing, little as I am, think about how God loves you, think about how your Father is.’ Let us ask for this grace.”