Bookmark and Share

Mercy and Power.

Catechesis by Pope Francis
General Audience, Wednesday 24 February 2016, St Peter's Sqaure - in Arabic, Croatian, English, French, German, Italian, Polish, Portuguese & Spanish

"Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good morning,
We continue with our catecheses on mercy in Sacred Scripture. Various passages speak of the powerful, of kings, of men “in high places”, and also of their arrogance and their abuse of power. Wealth and power are situations that can be good and beneficial to the common good, if placed at the service of the poor and of all, with justice and charity. But when, as too often occurs, they are experienced as a privilege, with selfishness and high-handedness, they are transformed into instruments of corruption and death. This is what happened in the episode of Naboth’s vineyard, described in the First Book of Kings, Chapter 21, which we shall pause to consider today.

In this text it is recounted that Ahab, the King of Israel, wants to buy the vineyard of a man called Naboth, because this vineyard borders the royal palace. The offer appears legitimate, even generous, but land holdings in Israel were considered as practically inalienable. In fact the Book of Leviticus states: “The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine; for you are strangers and sojourners with me (Lev 25:23). The land is sacred, because it is a gift of the Lord, which as such, must be safeguarded and preserved, as a sign of the divine blessing that passes from generation to generation and guarantees dignity for all. Thus one can understand Naboth’s negative reply to the king: “The Lord forbid that I should give you the inheritance of my fathers” (1 Kings 21:3).

King Ahab reacts to this refusal with bitterness and disdain. He feels offended — he is the king, the powerful man — his sovereign authority vitiated, and his desire for ownership frustrated. Seeing him so dejected, his wife Jezebel, a pagan queen who had promoted idolatrous worship and who had had the Lord’s prophets killed (cf. 1 Kings 18:4), — she was not bad, she was evil! — decided to intervene. The words she addressed to the king are quite significant. Listen to the wickedness that was behind this woman: “Do you now govern Israel? Arise, and eat bread, and let your heart be cheerful. I will give you the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite” (1 Kings 21:7). She emphasizes the king’s prestige and power, which, in her way of looking at it, are called into question by Naboth’s rejection. Instead, it is a power that she considers absolute, and through which the powerful king’s every desire becomes an order. The great St Ambrose wrote a little book about this episode. It’s called “Naboth”. It will be good for us to read it in this Season of Lent. It is really beautiful, very practical.

Jesus, recalling these things, tells us: “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave” (Mt 20:25-27). Should a person lose this dimension of service, power can transform into arrogance and become domination and oppression. This is exactly what happened in the episode of Naboth’s vineyard. Jezebel, the queen, in an unscrupulous manner, decides to eliminate Naboth and puts her plan into action. She uses false pretences of a perverse legal system: in the king’s name, she sends letters to the elders and nobles of the city, ordering that false witnesses publicly accuse Naboth of having cursed God and the king, a crime punishable by death. Thus, with Naboth dead, the king was able to take possession of the vineyard. This is not a story of former times, it is also a story of today, of the powerful who, in order to have more money, exploit the poor, exploit people. It is the story of the trafficking of people, of slave labour, of poor people who work “under the table” and for a minimal wage, thus enriching the powerful. It is the story of corrupt politicians who want more and more! This is why I said that it would be good for us to read St Ambrose’s book about Naboth, because this text is relevant to modern day.

That is where the exercise of authority without respect for life, without justice, without mercy leads. And that is where the thirst for power leads: it becomes greed that wants to own everything. A text of the Prophet Isaiah is especially enlightening in this regard. In it, the Lord cautions against the avidity of wealthy landowners who want to own more and more houses and lands. The Prophet Isaiah says:

“Woe to those who join house to house,
who add field to field,
until there is no more room,
and you are made to dwell alone
in the midst of the land” (Is 5:8).

The Prophet Isaiah was not a communist! God, however, is greater than the wickedness and of the underhanded dealings of human beings. In his mercy he sends the Prophet Elijah to help Ahab to convert. Now let us turn the page over, and how does the story continue? God sees this crime and also knocks at the heart of Ahab, and the king, his sins placed before him, understands, humbles himself and asks for forgiveness. How beautiful it would be if today’s powerful exploiters did the same! The Lord accepts his repentance; however, an innocent man has been killed, and the evil perpetuated leaves painful scars. Indeed, the evil committed leaves its painful vestiges, and the history of mankind bears the wounds. Mercy shows, in this case too, the royal road that must be followed. Mercy can heal wounds and can change history. Open your heart to mercy! Divine mercy is stronger than the sins of men. It is stronger, this is the example of Ahab! We know its power, when we recall the coming of the Innocent Son of God who became man to destroy evil with his forgiveness. Jesus Christ is the true King, but his power is completely different. His throne is the Cross. He is not a king who kills, but on the contrary, who gives life. His going toward everyone, especially the weakest, vanquishes loneliness and the deadly fate to which sin leads. Jesus Christ, with his closeness and tenderness, leads sinners into the place of grace and pardon. This is the mercy of God."


"Je suis heureux de saluer les pèlerins francophones, venus de Belgique et de France, en particulier les séminaristes de Bayonne et les pèlerins des diocèses d’Agen et de Pontoise, avec leurs évêques, ainsi que de Corse et de plusieurs autres régions. Au cours de ce temps du Carême, je vous invite à accueillir la miséricorde de Dieu dans vos vies, et à suivre Jésus à la rencontre des plus faibles et des plus petits. Que Dieu vous bénisse ! Je vous invite tous à être d’authentiques missionnaires de la miséricorde pour que l’Evangile puisse toucher le cœur des personnes et les ouvrir à la grâce de l’amour de Dieu. Que Dieu vous bénisse

I greet the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors taking part in today’s Audience, especially those from England, Scotland, Ireland, Sweden, Gabon, Mozambique and the United States of America. With prayerful good wishes that the present Jubilee of Mercy will be a moment of grace and spiritual renewal for you and your families, I invoke upon all of you joy and peace in our Lord Jesus Christ. God bless you all!

Herzlich grüße ich die Pilger deutscher Sprache, insbesondere die Gruppe von Studierenden der Theologie und des Kirchenrechts der Universität Wien. Ich lade euch ein, im Alltag Solidarität mit den Schwachen zu üben und die Schöpfung als Erbe für unsere Kinder zu bewahren. Der Herr segne euch und eure Familien.

Saludo cordialmente a los peregrinos de lengua española, en especial a los grupos provenientes de España y Latinoamérica. Que el ejemplo de Jesús transforme nuestra concepción de poder para que siempre vivamos nuestra responsabilidad como un servicio, en el que manifestar su misericordia a los demás.

Saúdo os peregrinos de língua portuguesa, particularmente os fiéis de Leiria-Fátima, Nova Oeiras e Lisboa, bem como os fiéis vindos do Brasil. Faço votos de que a vossa peregrinação quaresmal a Roma fortaleça em todos a fé e consolide, no amor divino, os vínculos de cada um com a sua família, com a comunidade eclesial e com a sociedade. Que Nossa Senhora vos acompanhe e proteja!

أُرحّبُ بالحجّاجِ الناطقينَ باللغةِ العربيّة، وخاصّةً بالقادمينَ من الشّرق الأوسط. أيّها الإخوةُ والأخواتُ الأعزّاء، تذكّروا دائمًا أنّ الرّحمة الإلهيّة أقوى من خطيئتنا وبإمكانها أن تشفي جراحنا وتغيّر تاريخنا. ليبارككُم الربّ!

Serdecznie pozdrawiam polskich pielgrzymów. Dziś, na wielkopostnej drodze w Roku Miłosierdzia, robimy rachunek sumienia i pytamy się, na ile na nasz sposób myślenia, wartościowania i działania wpływa pokusa nadużywania władzy albo korzystania z przywilejów. Patrzmy na Jezusa, który stał się posłusznym sługą Ojca i ludzi, i uczmy się służyć wszystkim, którzy potrzebują naszej pomocy! Niech wam towarzyszy łaska i błogosławieństwo Pana!

Srdečne vítam pútnikov zo Slovenska.
Bratia a sestry, apoštol Pavol vyzýva: „V mene Krista vás prosíme: zmierte sa s Bohom“. Počujme toto pozvanie, ktoré je adresované každému z nás a ochotne ho nasledujme.
S láskou žehnám vás i vaše rodiny vo vlasti.

* * *

Rivolgo un cordiale benvenuto ai pellegrini di lingua italiana. Sono lieto di salutare i Vescovi amici del Movimento dei Focolari, riuniti per l’annuale convegno, esortandoli a tenere sempre vivo nel ministero apostolico il carisma dell’unità, in comunione con il Successore di Pietro. Saluto i fedeli della Diocesi di Cremona, accompagnati dal Vescovo Mons. Antonio Napolioni; la Comunità Giovanni XXIII con il Vescovo di Rimini Mons. Francesco Lambiasi e gli ex-operai della Videocon di Anagni.

Auspico che tutti, in questo Anno Santo della misericordia, vivano ogni forma di potere come servizio per Dio e per i fratelli, con i criteri dell’amore alla giustizia e del servizio al bene comune.

Saluto infine i giovani, gli ammalati e gli sposi novelli. La Quaresima è un tempo favorevole per intensificare la vita spirituale: la pratica del digiuno vi sia di aiuto, cari giovani, per acquisire maggiore padronanza su voi stessi; la preghiera sia per voi, cari ammalati, il mezzo per affidare a Dio le vostre sofferenze e sentirlo sempre vicino; le opere di misericordia, infine, aiutino voi, cari sposi novelli, a vivere la vostra esistenza coniugale aprendola alle necessità dei fratelli."