As Jesus passed by,
he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the customs post.
He said to him, “Follow me.”
Pope Francis, when asked to describe himself said he was a sinner. Matthew too was considered a sinner of his day: yet neither of these two would be someone’s idea of a sinner. The popes comment, taken on its own, was cause to think as certainly he said this to draw specific attention to that part of his persona. He wanted for people to think of him as a sinner and as human and perhaps not the idyllic pontiff personified by a title. It took a while to grasp the meaning of his words though until this feast of Saint Matthew came around. Matthew was not always viewed as a Saint or held in any esteem. In his day he was seen first and foremost as a sinner. Matthew was the sinner and tax-collector Jesus dined with. He was a sinner in his day as we look upon the lowliest of sinners today. Not sinners like the Pope but like those in the alleys and the gutters. Like those fallen down, crippled, paralyzed, misled, fooled, tricked, despised. Matthew was a genuine sinner and somehow there is comfort in that because in being that sinner he is no better than me and I am no worse than him. When Pope Francis said he was a sinner I could hear the words, but could not find the fault. With Matthew his fault was his profession and with that his sin was clear to see. With some thought, and through Matthew, I could now begin to understand Francis. Francis is a sinner like all people and has the same imperfections we all possess. Francis is flesh and blood human and in confessing his sinfulness pronounces his humanity. The difference between Francis and me though is that pontificate, that role and title that sometimes obscures his personhood and the duties and responsibilities of that pontificate are not something he takes lightly. His is the role of Apostolic succession, the passing down of Jesus Christ’s message to the Apostles, from those Apostles, to Pope Francis, and then to me. He is that Apostle sinner that received that message to “follow me”, and in emphasizing his sinfulness he is delivering Christ’s message to me. Follow me.
(If the highly esteemed and very important leader of a large organization said follow me, I would look at them with skepticism. Important people don’t talk to me, they might talk at me but they don’t talk to me. It takes someone a bit closer in experience for me to relate to. Sadly I know my frailties and my misfortunes and my mistakes. I can relate to a sinner, when someone declares themselves a sinner they admit they are no different from me. I can receive that message loud and clear. Jesus said leave the sin behind and “follow me!”)