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Wednesday, October 26, 2016

“A new command I give you: love one another.” — John 13:34

So said a troubled rabbi named Jesus 2,000 years ago in his Last Supper with his disciples. Shortly afterward he was captured, tortured, and executed. The Bible says that three days later, he rose from death. The faith founded upon that resurrection claims, according to the Pew Research Center, upwards of 2 billion adherents worldwide.

Ponder that. On a planet of 7 billion souls, roughly one out of every three of us is governed by that simple, difficult command. Or, at least, so it is in theory. The reality, of course, is another matter.

If that command were taken seriously by 2 billion people — or even any significant portion thereof — can you imagine what that might look like? Would children still run barefoot through the favelas stacked high above Rio? Would women still struggle to get by on less than $3 a day in the shanties of Freetown? Would the streets of Miami still be home to the mentally ill? Would a child in Baltimore still be sitting in class, hungry? Would corporations still be people?

Last week, Pope Francis went to South America. And, as has become routine for this pope, he upset some people. In addresses to the faithful, he offered a bare-knuckles critique of the excesses of capitalism. While conceding the need for economic growth, the pontiff excoriated a model that concentrates wealth at the top and leaves the poor to scramble for the remains.

“Dung of the devil,” he called it. “A new colonialism,” he called it. “A subtle dictatorship,” he called it.

“As Christians,” he told an audience in Paraguay, “we have an additional reason to love and serve the poor; for in them we see the face and the flesh of Christ, who made himself poor so as to enrich us with his poverty.”

This was not well-received in some quarters, particularly in the United States, where unfettered capitalism is regarded by some as a kind of secular religion. Patrick Buchanan probably spoke for many when he wrote in a column, “Pope Francis is the infallible custodian of [the] truths Christ taught. Is that not sufficient, Your Holiness? Why not leave the socialist sermons to Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren?” It is telling that Jeb Bush and Rick Santorum made a similar argument last month in criticizing a papal letter on the environment.

The pope, they say, should stick to religion — to “making us better people,” as Bush put it — and leave the state of the world to others. But if you understand the “new command” Jesus left his followers, then you know this is a distinction without a difference: faith requires concern for the state of the world.

It’s fascinating. Jesus said absolutely nothing about same-sex marriage. But if the pontiff had issued a fiery blast against the practice, it is the safest of bets that Buchanan, Bush, and Santorum would be cheering him, and no one would dare lecture him to stay in his lane.

By contrast, Jesus spoke repeatedly and eloquently about the obligation to care for those in need — “Whatever you did for the least of these brothers and sisters of mine,” he says in the book of Matthew, “you did for me.” Yet the pope has somehow crossed a line when he speaks about the victimization of the vulnerable?

That’s the nonsensical judgment of those for whom “faith” evidently imposes no burden, demands no change, requires only a vague effort to become a better person. Yet you will find no such complacency in Jesus’ “new command.”

“Love one another,” he said. And love is not talk. Love is compassion in action. It is intolerance of suffering. It is urgent empathy. And it is something 2 billion of us are told to give. Candidly, most of us don’t seem to take the command all that seriously. But this pope inspires you to wonder:

What would the world be like if we did?

(Leonard Pitts is a columnist for The Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, FL, 33132. Readers may contact him via email at [email protected])

AFP Photo/Andreas Solaro

  • Patrick Buchanan probably spoke for many when he wrote in a column, “Pope Francis is the infallible custodian of [the] truths Christ taught. Is that not sufficient, Your Holiness? Why not leave the socialist sermons to Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren?”

    As in so many other areas, conservatives only use the parts of the Bible they like.

    • Sand_Cat

      Patrick Buchanan and others like him hate it when the pope points out how far they have strayed from the reported teachings of “Jesus.” They hate it because somewhere down inside, I believe they know that their agenda mocks “Jesus” in almost every respect.

  • FireBaron

    And unlike the last couple of popes, Francis spent years in the secular world before answering his calling. He did not enter Seminary instead of High School or College. He actually worked for a living. And, instead of entering a simple diocesan seminary, he elected to enter the Jesuit order, with their physical and mental disciplines.
    So, that being said, I would rather listen to and follow what Francis says than what Buchanan, Bush or Santorum have to say.

  • jrj1701

    They find the Pope dangerous because he is not pandering to the rich, he has not taken the leaven of the Pharisees.

  • docb

    The Pope IS sticking to religion ..Just not the revised version of the the rabid right…There are all sorts of parable guides lines to life in the teachings of Jesus..They just do not like that he is a strict adherent to something they have bastardized to conform to their warped new age cruelty and bigotry of the ‘other’!

    Go Pope Francis..Your Truth is killing the right!

  • highpckts

    They only want religion in politics when it fits their agenda!

  • TZToronto

    I sometimes think that the religious right (in America anyway) sees Jesus as someone who was above the fray, someone who didn’t want to dirty his hands, someone for whom the poor were, well, just the poor. Jesus told people to render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s and unto God that which is God’s, but just what exactlly was Caesar’s–anything really? Jesus was bold enough to speak truth to power, and he died because of that truth. Jesus was a poor man (a carpenter who decided to give up carpentry) who lived among the poor and ministered to the poor. His sacred presence was not intended to serve the privileged, and that’s why he died. If he had run around telling the poor to give more of the little they had to their “betters,” he would have lived to a ripe old age. Instead he preached what Pope Francis is preaching, that the wealthy and powerful who oppress the poor are not worthy of salvation, exactly the opposite of what the wealthy and powerful think about themselves. Sorry folks, but financial success is not indicative of salvation. Pope Francis is not preaching about religion and piety; he’s preaching about the things that matter in everyday life. The religious right want to see Jesus with a halo around his head, not with dirt on his hands. So to those who want Pope Francis to stick to religion, go back and read your Bibles. Show me where it says that the wealthy and powerful should have everything and the poor nothing.

    • Sand_Cat

      No, they see Jesus as someone who hated the poor and strove to punish them, just as they (the Religious Right) are. They regard him as someone who sanctioned wars to settle political disagreements, etc. They can say what they want, but that’s what they support.

      • TZToronto

        Matthew 19:23, 24 “And Jesus said to His disciples, ‘Truly I say to you, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again
        I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a
        needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.'” This is repeated in the three other gospels–hard to miss.

        • Sand_Cat

          I think the description of the last judgment in Matthew 25 trumps anything else I could say.
          Despite all the pretension (my wife was once told, “You’re not saved; what would you know”), phoney holiness, and self-righteousness of many of those who claim to be “Christians,” what matters – according to this saying attributed to their “savior” – is ACTIONS, specifically, how they treated those in need.
          Pat Buchanan’s reference to what seems to me human-invented BS with no basis in those sayings attributed to “Jesus” in the scripture selected by the very church that invented them illustrates the problem perfectly: being the “infallible” guardian of the “truths Christ taught” shouldn’t involve telling them to anyone.
          The article mentions something that can’t be overemphasized: many, if not most, of those who fervently claim “faith” in “Christ” practice a cost-free religion which never requires them to reconsider their own faults and prejudices in the real world.

          • ikallicrates

            Once you accept Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior, you are free to do any wrong you please to your fellow men. All that matters is that you are right with God.

          • Sand_Cat

            You have very succinctly stated the apparent position of many, many right-wing “Christians” today.

          • Leftout

            That is the same premise of Islam. You are allowed to lie and derive if it means glory to Islam .

        • ikallicrates

          Do you really not know how churches interpret this parable to flatter the rich? I heard a priest give a sermon on this parable back in the ’60s. He said that ‘the eye of the needle’ was a nickname for the gate into Jerusalem back in Jesus’ lifetime. Merchants entered the city through this gate with their camels laden with merchandise to sell, so the gate was large.

          • TZToronto

            I don’t doubt that’s true. However, I suspect that some of the other text has been ignored to make a point beneficial to whose with considerable wealth. I don’t see how “Again
            I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a
            needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” can be interpreted to favor the rich if the whole text is considered, even if the “eye of the needle” is the entrance to Jerusalem. Not to mention the fact that there are/were numerous gates into Jerusalem.

          • ikallicrates

            Of course this isn’t true. All reputable biblical scholars say it isn’t true, and have been saying it since the ’60s, when I first heard it, but that hasn’t stopped the fundamentalist Christians from claiming it is.

          • TZToronto

            I’ve been wondering why, if the universe is only 6000 years old, there isn’t any mention of dinosaurs running around and gobbling down the occasional prophet. After all, if the creation took 6 days, there must have been a few humans who had at least heard of those huge beasts. So why aren’t they mentioned in the Bible? Kind of hard to forget, I’d assume. (Plus, I’d assume that there aren’t many fundamentalists who have seen Inherit the Wind, with a script taken right from the Scopes Money Trial.)

          • ikallicrates

            I agree it doesn’t make sense. But I’ve given up expecting people to make sense. Now I just try to try to understand how they think.

          • jrj1701

            I heard the same although the gate was a point that camels didn’t like and it take a lot of effort to get the camel to go through.

          • ikallicrates

            I haven’t heard that version before, but every biblical scholar I’ve read says a gate called ‘eye of the needle’ didn’t exist in Jesus’ time, so I haven’t bothered to look into every version of this fable.

          • jrj1701

            Don’t blame you, it amazes me how many lies there are within the Christian community, like how the bible says god helps those that help themselves (it doesn’t, there is more indications that the bible says opposite) or that the road to hell is paved in good intentions (when you ask for chapter and verse for that quote watch how they can’t answer because it ain’t there).

          • ikallicrates

            Why are you amazed? Lies aren’t unique to the Christian community. Tallyrand, the French diplomat, said ‘Men invented language so that they could conceal their
            thoughts from each other’.

          • jrj1701

            I am amazed because Christian’s ain’t suppose to lie, that is a part of the ten commandments and all of that. I try my best not to lie and when it comes to my beliefs I do not have to.

  • bobnstuff

    Isn’t “God helps those that Help themselves” in the Bible? Isn’t being poor Gods punishment for being lazy? Didn’t God make people rich because the deserve it? America is a Christian nation founded on capitalism. I have hear people say all of these things. I believe that Pope Francis was sent to shake things up and show the world what a true Christian is.

  • latebloomingrandma

    I have found that the most verbally self-righteous people are the least Christian in their actions. I think ifJesus “hated” anything , it was hypocrasy.

  • 13factfinder

    TrumpCruz 01!

    • prenestino

      YES! We should all support this ticket!

  • prenestino

    This article smacks of the “Liberation Theology” controversy in which Cardinal Ratzinger defrocked/excommunicated over 900 nuns and priests in Latin America. PapaFrank has made it clear he is on the side of the Liberation Theologists. I strongly suspect PapaRatzi was leveraged out of the Popery for this reason; to save the Church from extinction. Ratzinger’s position on this was the reason so many Latinos left the Church over the past several decades (this has been amply documented)