During his homily at Freiburg Pope Benedict, reflecting on Matthew’s Gospel about prostitutes and tax-collectors being closer to the Kingdom of God than those hard of heart who rejected John the Baptist and himself, updated the parable to refer to conscientious agnostics and Catholics who only participate in the Church out of social convention:
‘The Lord concludes his parable with harsh words: “Truly, the tax collectors and the harlots go into the Kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the harlots believed him, and even when you saw it, you did not afterward repent and believe him” (Mt 21:32).
Translated into the language of our time, this statement might sound something like this: agnostics, who are constantly exercised by the question of God, those who long for a pure heart but suffer on account of our sin, are closer to the Kingdom of God than believers whose life of faith is “routine” and who regard the Church merely as an institution, without letting their hearts be touched by faith.
The words of Jesus should make us all pause, in fact they should disturb us. However, this is by no means to suggest that everyone who lives in the Church and works for her should be considered far from Jesus and the Kingdom of God. Absolutely not! On the contrary, this is a time to offer a word of profound gratitude to the many co-workers, employees and volunteers, without whom life in the parishes and in the entire Church would be hard to imagine’
Protect the Pope comment: Far from being a strident polemicist Pope Benedict’s words reveal his thoughtful understanding of the complexity of peoples’ struggles with ultimate questions behind such labels as ‘agnostic’.
The contrast between the Holy Father’s thoughtful words and the insults and caricatures of many protesters hawked around the world by the media during his State Visit to Germany couldn’t be more striking.