Yesterday was a momentous event. After the first retirement of a Roman Catholic Pope in almost 600 years there was a new Pope elected by the college of cardinals. And Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio after election took the Papal name Francis I. Having been ordained as a Jesuit priest I do not think that this was at all a flippant decision. In Buenos Aires Bergoglio chose to live a simple life rather than the life afforded one of his position. He lived in an apartment rather than the archbishop’s palace, he gave up his chauffeured limousine in favor of taking the bus to work, and he even cooked his own meals. The name Francis for me instantly brings up the quote the Saint of Assisi was most famous for, “Preach the gospel always, if necessary use words.” I am not sure how Pope Francis will operate as the spiritual leader of the Roman Catholic Church, but if his former lifestyle is any indication, then I think it will be a great time for the church.
It makes me even think a bit about how we operate in our daily lives as the church. We are fond of rhetoric in the church. In fact, one of my favorite things to do is to talk about Jesus and the church to anyone willing to listen. But I am not sure that is always what Jesus has intended for us. My chief example of this is the encounters that take place in Matthew 8. In Matthew chapters 5-7 we have recorded what is commonly referred to as ‘The Sermon on the Mount”. And without fail most people will tell you that this is the single greatest philosophical teaching in human history. So to simply refer to it as a sermon is a bit of an understatement, but it will serve our purposes for now. The part that amazes me is that immediately following this sermon is Christ’ action. Matthew 8:1-2 say this, “When Jesus came down from the mountainside, large crowds followed him.A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”
Jesus finishes this amazing sermon and immediately gets to it. It is not enough for him to have said amazing things…he has to do amazing things. I am not even sure the miracle is even the focal point. Verse three in the text says, “Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man.” He touched a man with leprosy. He defied religious and cultural laws for the sake of impacting the lives of those around him. He had just spoken about what life lived out should look like (Sermon on the Mount) and then he did it.
Like I said earlier, I am a fan of words. I love talking, debating and thinking about the church and Kingdom life. But maybe this is such a time as to quite my tongue and put the rest of me to action. Maybe a Pope choosing the name Francis could be a reminder to us all. I leave you with the opening lines of Edgar A Guest’s poem:
I’d rather see a sermon than hear one any day;
I’d rather one should walk with me than merely tell the way…
May we find a way to be a living sermon today.