For the past several days, Pope Francis has been in the United States, having arrived here after his visit to Cuba last week. He has spent time in Washington, New York and Philadelphia. Based on the media reports, it would seem that the country has really been taken with the demeanor of this new pope and he has really stirred quite some excitement in this country. I understand that the same thing happened when he visited Cuba.
I happened to be watching CBS Sunday Morning earlier today and saw a segment on St. Patrick’s Cathedral and how the pope celebrated mass there. He has also been to Independence Hall and it was expected that he would attract more than 1,000,000 people to his final mass in Philadelphia before returning to the Vatican Sunday evening. Everywhere he goes, the pope seems to be making friends and emulating the behavior of Jesus on this earth. Of course, that is the goal – being the hands and feet of Jesus and leading people to have eternal life through recognizing Christ as Lord and Savior of our lives.
The papal merchandise is flying off the shelves and entrepreneurs are coming up with all sorts of ideas for mementoes – including one lady who designed and is selling toasters that burn an image of the pope on the toasted bread. Who knows what other ideas people are coming up with… And to be sure, millions of people are talking about how the pope refused opportunities to have dinner with members of Congress and other dignitaries in favor of having dinner with the poor and the homeless. Surely, he has a heart for the poor and the marginalized. All this is to be commended and noted! Pope Francis certainly seems to be modeling a behavior that should rub off on all of us.
The thing that I wish to point out is that it shouldn’t have to take a papal visit for us to be the hands and feet of Jesus. As Christians, we should already be thinking about serving the poor and dealing with all the broken places of the world – decay of the environment, hatred, alienation from God, isolation, injustice and brokenness. While the pope seems to be concerned with all these problems facing mankind, we all need to have these earthly issues on our radar screens.
I well remember when I was in seminary how much we studied the attributes of God and how I was always concerned about learning so much about God that I didn’t work on my relationship with God. I worry about the same thing happening with our perception of the pope. So many people on Twitter and Facebook are touting their “love” for Pope Francis. He is already being hailed as one of the best popes of all time – even better than John Paul II and he has only been the vicar of Christ for a little more than two years now. The problem is that we shouldn’t start “worshipping” Pope Francis, we should be worshipping God. Francis is merely an ambassador of God, just as we, as the priesthood of believers, as Paul calls us in the New Testament, are.
We have the capacity to worship the Creator and I hope that people fall more in love with God than they do with the pope. Because there is always a danger when people put their faith in anything mortal – taking a backseat to God Himself. Tonight’s verse is the one that started the entire papal line – after all, Peter was the first pope and there has never been a Pope Peter II. I can understand that – who would want to be compared to Peter!
In the book of Matthew, Jesus inquires who the people think He is. Peter responds that Jesus is the Messiah and Jesus responds, in Matthew 16:17-19, “Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
My encouragement this evening is that God wants to have this kind of a relationship with each of us. My prayer is that you will re-dedicate yourself to growing your relationship with the God of the universe and not merely admire those among us who seem to be obedient to Jesus and have a special relationship with Him. Have a great day in the Lord, grace and peace…