Pope Francis on the Failure of Jesus

By Jeff Laird

According to some of what I've read lately on Facebook, Pope Francis thinks Jesus is a failure. A failure!


Oh, internet. You and your zany, out-of-context sound bites. How you tease us, with manufactured outrage. Please, people, before you click "share," just stop for five seconds and think about the only two reasonable possibilities. Option One: the leader of the largest (nominally) Christian denomination on earth thinks its namesake is a failure. Or, Option Two: he meant something a little different than those four out-of-context words seem to imply.

I strongly reject Catholicism, its theology, and its authority. I care deeply for those who are confused by this man-centered system, and who are being pulled away from an accurate, Biblically-based approach to God. Despite this, it is important for us to be fair, accurate, and reasonable when we interpret what others have said. Much of the controversy over Pope Francis' recent remarks has been extremely unfair, and very inaccurate.

The heaviest criticism of Pope Francis' tour of the US has been over his supposed claim that "Jesus failed." On the face of it, this seems an unlikely thing for a Pope to say. After all, he is the leader of a religion that claims to follow and revere Jesus. What's necessary is to see what was actually said, and be graceful in how we interpret it. Here is what Francis actually said, at St. Patrick's Cathedral:
We can get caught up in measuring the value of our apostolic works by the standards of efficiency, good management and outward success, which govern the business world.

Not that these things are unimportant, of course. But we have been entrusted with a great responsibility, and this is why God's people rightly expect accountability from us but the true worth of our apostolate is measured by the value it has in God's eyes, to see and evaluate things from God's perspective, calls for constant conversion in the first days and years of our vocation and, need I say, it demands great humility.

The cross shows us a different way of measuring success. Ours is to plant the seeds. God sees to the fruits of our labors. And if at times our efforts and works seem to fail and not produce fruit, we need to remember that we are followers of Jesus Christ and his life, humanly speaking, ended in failure, the failure of the cross...
Take careful note of the context. He was saying that human beings tend to measure success according to earthly, immediate results. By that kind of measuring stick, Jesus' earthly ministry was a "failure" — the results were neither immediate, nor earthly. The point Francis seems to be making is not that Jesus was a true failure, only that an earthly-centered attitude towards success is not how God measures success. The rest of his speech seems to highlight the same idea.

This is not only a fair point, it's a very Biblical one. 1 Corinthians 1:18 says that the Cross represents "foolishness" to the world. The idea of a crucified Savior is offensive — literally, a "skandalon", in Greek — to the non-believer (1 Corinthians 1:23). There's a drastic difference between saying, "Jesus failed," and saying, "according to the unspiritual world, Jesus' life ended in failure."

Many news outlets have taken his words out of context, in an effort to stir up a skandalon of their own. This should not be. Whether we agree or disagree with someone's politics or theology, we are obligated to be wise, fair, and seekers of truth. There's enough to criticize in Catholicism without clouding the waters with trivial sniping. It only distracts from the more substantive, less frivolous, and far more important things we ought to be confronting.

For as much as I disagree with Pope Francis' theological views, and even the very existence of his office, on this particular point he was absolutely, Biblically correct.

Image Credit: US Papal Visit; "Pope Francis Celebrates Concluding Mass in Philly"; Creative Commons

TagsControversial-Issues  | Current-Issues  | Jesus-Christ

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Published 9-29-15