The Nazarene peasant flogged corruption and drove it out of the Temple. Pope Francis goes a step further than his Master.
Come with me.
The defining identity of the mission, message, and Papacy of Pope Francis is an unwavering commitment to being the voice of the voiceless, the hopeless, the poor, the oppressed, the marginalized, and the weak. This is no surprise. Pope Francis is from Latin America. Latin America is the birth place of liberation theology in the 1950s and 1960s. If you are hearing about liberation theology here for the first time, consult Google.
It is one thing for Catholic priests in the Latin American liberation theology movement to double as social crusaders and revolutionaries on behalf of the oppressed and downtrodden, with the gospel being their singular arm. When a Pope makes such a radical pro-people confrontation with power the very meaning of his Papacy, we must pay attention. Today, Pope Francis has effectively become the arrow head of liberation theology: totally committed to speaking truth to power, decrying oppression, the ravages of global capitalism, and what he calls “the new colonialism”.
Pope Francis has been particularly loud in condemning corruption and in calling for punishing the corrupt. Since 2013, he has spoken relentlessly against corruption. And he is unwilling to spare the rod. Where his Master, the Nazarene peasant, had been content with flogging the moneychangers and corruption out of the Temple, the Pope takes the wages of corruption one step further. Of people engaged in corruption, the Pope opined that they should be tied to a rock and thrown into the sea because “they appear beautiful on the outside but inside they are full of dead bones and putrefaction”.
Don’t just flog and drive them out of the Temple. Tie a rock around the corrupt and throw them into the sea! The Pope was, of course, speaking metaphorically to emphasize the seriousness with which corruption and the corrupt must be confronted. In other sermons, the Pope has pretty much come close to calling for a revolution by the poor, the powerless, the oppressed: the people.
It is all really about priorities. The Nazarene peasant had a priority: the weak, the oppressed, the poor. He fed them and advocated for them. He spoke truth to the power which oppressed them. He perceived peace as the presence of justice and fairness for the oppressed. Pope Francis has simply continued the tradition of his Master. He has adopted the priorities of his Master. He has elected to speak truth to power rather than speak cant for power.
My take away from the careers of the Nazarene peasant and Pope Francis is a rough idea of what their priorities would have been had they been operating in present day Nigeria. In a Nigeria where even the oxygen that we breathe is disproportionally unfair to the poor and the downtrodden; where Ibikunle Amosun is sacking poor teachers for setting exam questions critical of his government; where pensioners are still dying on pension queues; where Ogbeni Aregbesola still hasn’t paid the backlog of salaries he is owing in Osun and is shamelessly making a virtue of his claim that he has not received his own salaries too; where Boko Haram is still breaking the limbs of the poor; where almajiris are overrunning the streets of Sokoto; it is inconceivable that the priority of the Nazarene peasant or Pope Francis would revolve exclusively around what is fair or unfair to the rich and powerful.
I also cannot think of a situation in which the Nazarene peasant or Pope Francis would have been so carried away by advocacy for the rich that they would find the one “heroic” act that can wash away stealing without prior admission, penance, and restitution.
That would be turning the foundation of Christian morality on its head.