In today’s Gospel – Matthew 20:1-16 – we have yet another story from Jesus to explain what God is like and what it should mean to belong to his kingdom. This time the story was told in response to people complaining that Jesus was paying more attention to the outcasts and public sinners than he was to the more ‘respectable’ or upstanding members of Jewish society.
The story is about unemployed people being given a day’s work. At the end of the working day, the employer generously gave a full day’s wages to everyone, even to the latecomers. This angered those who had worked the whole day – they felt that either they should have been paid more or the others paid less. Their employer explained in reply that he was not being unjust to them – they got their full day’s pay, after all – but that because he felt sorry for the latecomers he decided to give them the same pay.
God, explained Jesus, is like just that: he looks on ‘latecomers’ – like the outcasts and public sinners Jesus befriended – as mercifully as the employer looked on the latecomers in the story. For God, as Jesus taught, is ever merciful and it’s never too late to renew your relationship with Him.
Pope Francis constantly reminds us that as God is merciful, so the Church must be too. Let the Church, he says, always be a place of mercy and hope, where everyone is welcomed, loved and forgiven.
The motto Pope Francis chose for his ministry consists of three Latin words taken from a sermon by the 8th century St Bede of Jarrow on Christ calling the tax-collector Matthew to be an apostle. Matthew was an outcast and despised by fellow Jews because he was a tax collector. Bede wrote that when Jesus caught sight of Matthew for the first time, he saw him “through the eyes of mercy and chose him” – miserando atque eligando. Christ did not look on Matthew with a scowl, as everyone else did, but ‘though the eyes of mercy’.
In his own life, Pope Francis has come to see Jesus looking as mercifully on him as he did on Matthew. Can you see the same applying to you, that God does not frown or scowl when He sees or thinks of you, that he sees you only through the ‘eyes of mercy’? Can you see that you are not rubbish in God’s sight but someone God delights in, even if He wants better for you?
Likewise, Pope Francis wants our Church to look on people through God’s eyes of mercy, and not harsh judgement. To do this, our Church must be warm and welcoming, accepting people as they are, not as we want them to be; to accept people’s relationships as they are – stressed, messy and broken or harmonious and calm. It also means that we have to do away with the perception that in the eyes of the Church only perfection is good enough; and re-establish that Christ’s Church is not just for the good and the saintly but for the ordinary and the average, for people just like us.
In short, this and every parish must be where you can experience the understanding, compassion and mercy of God. It must be a true ‘home’ where you – young or old, married, single or divorced – and whatever your sexuality – feel valued, not judged, and can share in a loving relationship with Christ.
Thank you to all of you who are contributing to making this parish the warm, welcoming and generous welcoming community it is. May God grant us the grace to go on growing in His love and looking through His eyes of mercy on each other.
Holy Name, Jesmond
24 September 2017