Since today is the Feast of St. Francis, I thought I might talk a little bit about him. In many ways I am reminded of Francis as I read this lesson from Paul. Francis too had his eye on status. His father was a wealthy cloth merchant, so Francis wanted for nothing. He had his eye on climbing up the societal chain by being a soldier dressed in fine armor. It didn’t work out for him very well. Taken captive and imprisoned, he eventually returned home with a broken body and spirit. It seemed the life of the soldier for God was not in the cards. As he searched his spirit and thought about the purpose of his life, he had several experiences that would shape his life forever. One was encountering a group of lepers who were outcasts from society. Francis was afraid of them, as most people were. But in this encounter, he got off his horse, and embraced one of the outcasts and kissed his hand. He felt a sense of peace like he hadn’t felt before. Later in his life he would minister to lepers, knowing that they needed kindness and love. He had a mystical experience at a small broken down church, where Jesus spoke to him from a crucifix, asking him to “repair his church”. Francis sold the cloth his father had in order to get supplies to repair the little church. His father was of course furious. Eventually Francis renounced his father and the life that he once lived in order to live a life closer to Jesus and the gospels. He came to realize that when Jesus asked him to “repair his church”, he meant something so much deeper and lasting than repairing a building.
Francis, who never intended to start a movement, began one where living a life of extreme simplicity was the goal. That simplicity, or poverty, was taken as a way to be more generous with others. Francis believed that all he needed was his faith in Jesus. Since he had no attachments to property or possessions, he was able to give everything he had to those who needed it. One of the reasons he is so beloved by many people after all these centuries, is because of his great love of animals and of creation. Francis saw God in everything. Animals and everything in creation was created by the same God that created him, and so all of these things became brothers and sisters. Even death was known as Sister death because even death was ruled by Jesus and was to be welcomed as a loving companion who guided us into eternal life in God.
Like Paul, Francis was changed by his encounter with the crucified and risen Christ. It changed everything about him. Both men knew that everything about their lives revolved around believing in and serving Jesus. Nothing else mattered. Paul makes it clear when he says that any righteousness is not his own, but righteousness is from God, given because of faith in Jesus Christ.
As I talked about last week, humility is one of the charisms of the Christian life. Paul, despite some of his bragging, knew this, and Francis learned it and preached it as well. In our gospel today, Jesus says that the kingdom of God will be given to those who produce the fruit of the kingdom, and that those who produce fruit may not be those who have followed the law and who have done everything “right”. Paul realizes that all of his status means nothing without Jesus. Francis leaves behind a wealthy life in order to live closer to the gospels, giving up everything he had because God had given up everything in order to live in Jesus. There is a challenge in all of this for us. Where are those places where we take personal pride in our status that get in the way of our relationship with Jesus? Do we give thanks to God every day for our very lives? Have we dedicated our lives to working for the kingdom? All that we are begins and ends in Jesus. May our faith in him lead us to serve him, and like Francis, may we see Jesus in those who are outcast, so that we might love and serve them in a kingdom where there is no status, only radical equality lived in close relationship to Christ our Lord.