This week, the Catholic Church’s Pope Francis gave a brief message in which he made some remarks that have prompted worldwide attention. In these remarks, he spoke about the common human desire to “do good” – something that unites people of all cultures and faith traditions.
Pope Francis’s comments were based on the gospel reading for the day, Mark 9:38-40, in which Jesus says that someone doing miracles in his name should be allowed to continue even though he is not part of the “core group” of disciples. The rationale? “Whoever is not against us is for us,” said Jesus. This led the pope to state that all people, even atheists, are redeemed by the blood of Jesus, because all people are created in the image of God and all people have the God-given command (and desire) to “do good.”
Before we jump to conclusions and responses, let’s remember a few things: the world is a complicated place, sound bytes often reduce conversations unfairly, and Pope Francis raises a few worthwhile points here:
- If we consistently “do good,” then we will avoid war, murder, and killing in God’s name – which is against God’s character.
- God has indeed created all people in his own image. This means every single person is loved by God and deserves our respect, compassion, and love.
- “Doing good” in community leads to a “culture of encounter” which breeds peace, not conflict. Said differently, we are to live in community with each other, not in isolation.
I have been very interested in Pope Francis, his beliefs, and his practices since he was inaugurated earlier this year. I appreciate a great deal about him: his call to poverty, his emphasis on service, his humility (even in such a high position), his simplicity. These are exciting days to have such a pope in the world.
Yet we need to be careful when we talk about how the blood of Christ redeems all people. It is true that God desires all people to be saved; he does not want anyone to perish (2 Peter 3:9). God did create us in his image exactly so we might enjoy right relationship with him forever. But even in Old Testament days, forgiveness for sins had to be obtained through animal sacrifices, which individual believers would bring to the tabernacle or temple. Redemption was not automatic then, and it is not now.
…because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them. Such a high priest meets our need—one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself. (Hebrews 7:24-27 NIV)
The most important faith-related question for any person is this: What will you do with Jesus? The answer to that question – for better or worse – transforms life, community, and why we “do good.” Let us faithfully proclaim Jesus as the Savior of the world and encourage those around us to enter into relationship with him.