Time Magazine named Pope Francis their ‘Person of the Year’ for 2013.
This honor, which is usually a signal event in the lives of most of its recipients, was probably more of a bemusement to the Holy Father.
He walks in the shoes of the fisherman.
I have always loved the power of that first call to Peter. It is an incredible story. Here it is, in all its stark simplicity.
As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. Come, follow me, Jesus said, and I will send you out to fish for people. At once they left their nets and followed him.
Think about this story for a moment. Simon and his brother Andrew are going about their daily work as fishermen. They are casting their nets into the lake. Then this stranger comes up and says, Follow me … and I will send you out to fish for people.
What would you do?
I’ve dealt with a lot of crazy people in my time in public office. Many of them have pulled me aside to share their delusions. I’ve always handled it as gently as I could. But I never considered dropping everything and following them off to Mars or wherever they thought they were going.
You can tell when someone is delusional. It’s not difficult at all.
But this carpenter’s son was different, and those who, as He said, had the eyes to see, picked up on it immediately. Simon and his brother dropped their nets, left their livelihood, and followed Him.
Why? What did they have the eyes to see?
I think it was more of an intuition and an instinctive response to the presence of God than knowledge and understanding. The Gospels make it clear that all the Apostles, including Peter, (who was called Simon until Jesus changed his name) slowly and often reluctantly came to an understanding of Who Jesus was and what His call meant. They were still quarreling among themselves as to their position in what they thought was going to be an earthly kingdom a few days before the crucifixion.
But the same Jesus Who others humiliated and murdered without fear for themselves or their immortal souls, was, for those who had the eyes to see, a transcendent figure from the first.
The seeds of His crucifixion were sown early in His ministry among those who were offended by His teaching. This was not a simple miracle man. He challenged the jots and tittles of the weighty interpretations of the law that the priests had layered on the people. He laid bare the priests’ pretensions while opening His arms to the displaced and despised.
They accused Him repeatedly — and accurately — of healing on the Sabbath. They “grieved and angered” Jesus with “their hardness of heart.”
Is it better to save a life or end it? he asked them, and they responded by plotting to kill him.
He could have quibbled and shuffled his feet and obfuscated His way out of the danger. He could have watered down the Gospel so that it fit the teachings of these fallen priests.
But He didn’t. Instead, He went right in their faces with his challenge to their mis-use of the law to control and weigh people down. The son of man is lord of the Sabbath He told them. The Sabbath was made for people. People were not made for the Sabbath, He said.
And they killed Him for it.
The crowds loved Him. They followed Him everywhere, even going so far as to knock a hole in the roof of Peter’s house to lower a crippled man for Him to heal. Less than a week before they yelled “Crucify Him!” the crowds shouted Hosanna! and laid palm branches in the road in front of Him.
Pope Francis is the Vicar of Christ. When he — or anyone — speaks out for the Gospels, he will be dealt with in a manner similar to what Jesus Himself experienced from human hands.
Is the servant greater than the master? Jesus asked his disciples. If they persecute me, they will persecute you.
Today, as 2,000 years ago, high profile followers of Christ are subjected to the same push-pull of adulation that is placed on them instead of Him as well as the attacks and smears that are also placed on them instead of Him. In truth, both the love and the hate are focused on Jesus.
On the one hand, he is named Person of the Year. On the other hand, he is attacked as a heretic and compared — with absolutely no basis in fact — with the most corrupt popes of history.
Why? Because he says that Jesus came to seek the lost, that we must not walk past Lazarus, that the prostitutes and drug dealers and homosexuals will enter the Kingdom of Heaven before the pharisees of our time.
He is accused of being a sell-out because known sinners are attracted to him. He is called outrageous names because he says blessed are the poor.
This honor of being named Person of the Year will almost certainly further inflame those who are so bitterly angry with him. After all, the honor — in all its temporal nothingness — comes from public sinners.
Who is Pope Francis to tell sinners that Jesus loves them? Who does he think he is, insisting that Christ the Lord meant what He said?
Maybe, he thinks he’s the Pope. Perhaps the Holy Spirit had a thing or two to do with his election. It’s possible that he was put in this position because what he’s telling us is what we need to hear.
I wrote a post declaring my loyalty to this good man.
I ended up deleting a number of disturbing comments on this post. The comments came from people who wanted to rage at the Holy Father — and at me, for standing with him.
They came from Catholics whose Catholicism has devolved down to a Gospel according to them as explicated by some false internet pope they are slavishly following. They repeatedly cited this or that cult-leader of a fallen priest or political guru to explain why the Pope is a heretic, a fool, or worse.
They chided me for following the Pope instead of their fallen priest or political guru. They explained to me why there is no responsibility for Catholics to follow the teachings of the Holy Father when it conflicts with the teachings of these internet tin gods.
Each of these rageful, bitter people appeared to be convinced — absolutely, foaming at the mouth I’d like to kill you for disagreeing with me convinced — that the teachings of their fallen priest/political guru trumped that of the Pope. They were, in a word, demented. They were, in a phrase, in the grip of a virulent form of self-deluding, self-righteous evil.
This is all First Century stuff. It is the same old story, re-told with living actors who don’t seem to know they are playing a part. I know that the chock-full-o-nuts attacks on the Holy Father for being named Man of the Year will arrive soon. I’ve read enough attacks claiming that the Pope is a heretic because public sinners are attracted to what he’s saying to know they’re coming.
For those of you who are interested, here’s my take on the Person of the Year deal: It doesn’t mean a thing.
Those same people who are so in love with Pope Francis today can turn like they were on ice and begin attacking him tomorrow.
What does matter — and is of eternal consequence — is whether or not those who hear his message will be convicted by it to turn to Jesus. The Pope is in the business of saving souls, not gathering honors.
He’s the Pope. He stands in the shoes of the fisherman. Which makes him a fisher of people.