The Common Good

Pope Francis: An Imitation of Christ

Pope Francis is TIME's Person of the Year. But that is only because Jesus is his "Person of the Day" — every day. 

Pope Francis greets the crowd in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican. Photo: Paul Haring/Catholic News Service. Via RNS.

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Praises of the pope are flowing around the world, commentary on the pontiff leads all the news shows, and even late night television comedians are paying humorous homage. But a few of the journalists covering the pope are getting it right: Francis is just doing his job. The pope is meant to be a follower of Christ — the Vicar of Christ.

Isn’t it extraordinary how simply following Jesus can attract so much attention when you are the pope? Every day, millions of other faithful followers of Christ do the same thing. They often don’t attract attention, but they keep the world together.

The remarkable acts of kindness and grace we see with Pope Francis are the natural response from a disciple who has known the kindness and grace of Christ in his own life. The pope’s moments of Christ-like compassion and love point not to “a great man," but rather point to Jesus. He is not asking us to follow him, but inviting us to follow Christ.

In each story we hear, we are really seeing the beauty of the kingdom of God, where human beings are treated as wonderfully loved as they are. All the narrations of the things the pope has done remind us of the Christ we will soon celebrate as the newborn King.

Pope Francis reminds me of Jesus, calling us again to a deeper relationship with Christ. When he invites homeless men to have breakfast with him on his 77th birthday, or provides a chair and food for the Swiss Guard outside his room, he reminds us of Christ. When he kisses the feet of Muslim prisoners, or offers to baptize the baby of a woman who was pressured to abort it, he reminds us of Christ. When he asks, “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” he reminds us of Christ.  When he chooses a simple place to live and simple clothes to wear and when we hear rumors of his going out at night in disguise to minister to the homeless, he reminds us of Christ.

Christ’s kingdom is meant to change everything, and Pope Francis reminds us of that.

In his new Evangelii Gaudium, he points to the kingdom of God, which is more than generous acts of compassion but the entry of justice into the world. A few of those quotes are worth some quiet reflection as we wait this Advent for the coming of Christ:

“Just as the commandment 'Thou shalt not kill' sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say ‘thou shalt not’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills.”

“We have created a 'throw away' culture which is now spreading. It is no longer simply about exploitation and oppression, but something new. Exclusion ultimately has to do with what it means to be a part of the society in which we live; those excluded are no longer society's underside or its fringes or its disenfranchised — they are no longer even a part of it. The excluded are not the 'exploited' but the outcast, the 'leftovers.'

“In this context, some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naive trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system.”

“We have created new idols. The worship of the ancient golden calf (cf. Ex 32:1-35) has returned in a new and ruthless guise in the idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose. … A new tyranny is thus born, invisible and often virtual, which unilaterally and relentlessly imposes its own laws and rules.”

“In effect, ethics leads to a God who calls for a committed response which is outside the categories of the marketplace. When these latter are absolutized, God can only be seen as uncontrollable, unmanageable, even dangerous, since he calls human beings to their full realization and to freedom from all forms of enslavement.”

“The Pope loves everyone, rich and poor alike, but he is obliged in the name of Christ to remind all that the rich must help, respect and promote the poor. I exhort you to generous solidarity and to the return of economics and finance to an ethical approach which favours human beings.”

When Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck called his words “Marxist,” Pope Francis again offered a Christ-like and humorous response, “The Marxist ideology is wrong. But I have met many Marxists in my life who are good people, so I don’t feel offended.”

Pope Francis loves to laugh and is often smiling. His Evangelii Gaudium means “The Joy of the Gospel.” This joy is a revolution — a revolution of love.

Jim Wallis is president of Sojourners. His latest book, On God's Side: What Religion Forgets and Politics Hasn’t Learned About Serving the Common Good, is now available. Watch the Story of the Common Good HERE . Follow Jim on Twitter @JimWallis.

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