May the witness of the martyrs help us to avoid the temptation of transforming our faith into power. Those were Pope Francis’ words during his homily at the morning Mass in the Casa Santa Marta on Monday, as he reflected on the Gospel story of the crowds who come searching for Jesus following the multiplication of the loaves and the fishes.
Noting that the crowds came looking for Jesus, not out of a sense of religious awe and adoration, but rather for their own material interests, Pope Francis said when we take advantage of faith and are tempted towards power, we run the risk of failing to understand the true mission of Our Lord.
We see this attitude repeatedly in the Gospels, he said, where so many people follow Jesus out of their own interests. Even his own apostles, the Pope said, like the sons of Zebedee who wanted the jobs of “prime minster and finance minister”, they wanted to have power. Instead of bringing to the poor the Good News that Jesus came to free prisoners, to give sight to the blind and freedom to the oppressed, we are tempted to transform this message of healing into a tool of power and to take advantage of our encounter with Jesus.
Pope Francis noted that this was also the way that Jesus himself was tempted by the devil. Firstly by offering him bread to eat, secondly by offering to create a great show so that people would believe in him and thirdly by urging him to worship other idols. This is our daily temptation as Christians, the Pope said, not to believe in the power of the Spirit, but instead to be tempted by worldly power.
In this way we are drawn increasingly by the ways of the world towards that attitude which Jesus calls hypocrisy. We become Christians in name but in our hearts we act out of our own interests, weakening our faith, our mission and the Church itself. Just as Jesus told the crowds, “you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate the loaves and were filled”.
May the saints and martyrs, the Pope said, awaken us with their witness of following the path of Jesus and announcing the year of grace. When the crowds at Capernaum understand Jesus’ rebuke, they ask him “What can we do to accomplish the works of God?” Jesus answers, “This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent.” Pope Francis concluded by praying that God may give us the grace not to fall for the spirit of this world which leads us to live like pagans beneath a veneer of Christianity, but to believe and trust in God and in the one he sent to us.
Image credit: Ambrosius Francken (I) - Multiplication of the loaves and fish - Wikimedia Commons