A new Pope of the Roman Catholic Church was elected this month. Within two days, The Economist featured a cautionary subtitle to a front page article: “Pope Francis inherits a mess but has great opportunities. He will need to act quickly.” (March 16, 2013, print edition)

Indeed, Pope Francis is the new leader of a problem-besieged church. But the world senses that he will find opportunities that his predecessors overlooked. Perhaps that’s because we’re finding out that this Pope has prepared himself for transformational leadership. Pope Francis brings to his office a commitment and sensitivity for justice and for the poor; one that makes him stand out in a prophetic way from his peers and imitates the ministry of his namesake, Francis of Assisi. For example, the Pope-elect, “when he was archbishop of sprawling Buenos Aires, moved out of the palace of previous prelates and went abroad to literally wash the feet of AIDS sufferers in hospice.” (Barone, www.phillie.com, March 15, 2013).

Francesco di Pietro di Bernardone (St. Francis of Assisi) and Jorge Mario Bergoglio (Pope Francis) entered into lifelong ministries of advocacy and giving to the poor. It is likely that that both studied the Gospels and let the words of Jesus propel them into ministry. The world observed the fruit of this study when Pope Francis asked for the prayers of the people from the balcony of the Sistine Chapel in the first hours after his election.

What can we expect when we study the Gospels?  Tom Wright—biblical scholar and pastor—suggested that the Gospels were written to transform, not just to inform the reader. He said people should seek out all four Gospels and “struggle with each book” and its unique portrait of Jesus. He explained,

  • John’s Gospel is designed to bring you to your knees in wonder, love, and praise.
  • Luke’s is meant to make you sit up and think hard about Jesus as Lord of the whole world.
  • Matthew’s is like a beautifully bound book which the Christian must study and ponder at leisure, steadily reordering one’s life in the process.
  • Mark’s is like a hastily printed revolutionary tract, stuffed into a back pocket, and frequently pulled out, read by torchlight, and whispered to one’s co-conspirators.” (from The Original Jesus: The Life and Vision of a Revolutionary.” Eerdmans, 144ff.)

In other words, we can expect to encounter Jesus in life transforming ways as each in our own way face the daily “mess” and the many opportunities that require us to “act quickly” and with wisdom. Our struggle to encounter Jesus can then lead us into prayer. Wright reminds us that the Gospels lead us to Jesus every time.

Susan Disston was the assistant dean of curriculum and assessment at Biblical Seminary.

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