Pope: God sent his son to show mercy to sinners, not punish them

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — God did not send his son into the
world to cast off the wicked but to offer them a path to conversion through mercy
and love, Pope
Francis said.

Those who object to Jesus’ mercy toward sinners often
create an “image
of God that impedes them from enjoying his real presence,” the pope said Sept. 7 at his weekly
general audience.

“Some carve out a ‘do-it-yourself’ faith that
reduces God to the limited space of their own desires and their own
convictions,” the pope said. “Others reduce God to a false idol;
using his holy name to justify their own interests or even to incite hatred and

An estimated 25,000 people attended the audience in St. Peter’s Square; many visitors
were in Rome for the Sept. 4 canonization of St. Teresa of Kolkata.

Before delivering his final blessing the pope called on
young people to follow her example and be “artisans of mercy.” He asked those who are
ill “to feel her compassionate closeness, especially in the hour of
the cross.”

In his main talk, the pope reflected on the Gospel story in which John
the Baptist, while imprisoned, sends his disciples to ask Jesus if he is “the one who is to come, or should we look for

Jesus answered,
“Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind regain
their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are
raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them; and blessed is the one who takes no offense at me.”

John the
Baptist, who often preached the coming of the Messiah as a judge who
would come to “reward the good and punish the bad,” now suffers doubt
in the darkness of his cell because he does “not understand this
style,” the pope said.

However, he said, Jesus’ response is a clear message to his followers and to
the church.

“God did not send his son into the world to punish
sinners nor to annihilate the wicked. They are instead called to conversion so
that, by seeing the signs of divine goodness, they may find their way
back,” Pope Francis said.

Jesus’ gesture of showing mercy to sinners is an act
that often provokes doubt and even scandal to those who believe in a God that
comes to rain down justice on the wicked, he said.

Nevertheless, “if the obstacle to believing is above all his acts of mercy, this means
that you have a false image of the Messiah. Blessed are those who, in front of
Jesus’ gestures and words, give praise to God who is in heaven,” the pope

Jesus’ warning to those who are scandalized by God’s
mercy serve as a warning for men and women today who create a false image of
God, often perceiving him as a “psychological refuge” that offers them reassurance during
difficult moments or reducing Jesus to just one of many teachers of ethics throughout history,
he explained.

Nevertheless, these erroneous perceptions “stifle
faith into a purely personal
relationship with Jesus, canceling out his missionary impulse that is capable
of transforming the world and history.”

Christians, he said, believe in the “God of Jesus
Christ” who wants us “to grow in the living experience of his mystery
of love.”

“Let us commit ourselves to not put any obstacles
to the Father’s merciful acts,”
Pope Francis said. “Instead, let us ask for the gift of great faith to
become signs and instruments of mercy.”

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.

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