ROME – Jesus did not die on the Cross because he healed the sick, called for mercy or preached the beatitudes, but because he forgave sins, Pope Francis told the faithful gathered for his weekly general audience.

Jesus embraces “those who are outcast, ‘untouchable’,” the pope said. “With a compassion that literally causes him to tremble in his depths, he reveals the merciful heart of God.”

Quoting from the day’s reading where Mary Magdalene washed Jesus’ feet causing disconcertment and scandal, Francis emphasized how much this “astonishing attitude” was revolutionary.

“According to the mentality at the time, the separation between the saint and the sinner, between the pure and impure, had to be clear,” the pope said in the Paul VI hall in the Vatican. “But Jesus’ attitude is different.”

The Son of God does not shy away from the lepers, the possessed, the sick and the marginalized. The pope stressed that the love that Christ bore for the “untouchables” (referencing the Hindu caste system and the people who are too low to qualify for it) deeply shook his contemporaries.

“I believe that many Catholics believe themselves to be perfect and despise others. This is sad,” the pope said in an off-the-cuff remark. “We who are used to experiencing the forgiveness of sins, perhaps a little too ‘cheaply,’ should sometimes remember how much we cost the love of God,” he added.

When Jesus sees someone who suffers, he takes in that suffering and does not expect, as the stoics did, that the pain be endured with heroism. “Jesus feels compassion,” Francis said, zeroing in on a topic dear to his pontificate: Mercy.

The pope mentioned all those who live a sad life because no one is willing to look at them in the eyes in a different way, “with the heart of God, meaning with hope.”

Early on, Jesus got in trouble for forgiving the sins of the marginalized. Francis referred to the Gospel, when Jesus forgave the sins of a paralyzed and sinful man, knowing that the pain that the man felt in his soul was much graver than his physical illness.

“Son, your sins are forgiven!” Jesus told the man (Mark 2:5) scandalizing the Scribes who were present because his words “sounded like blasphemy, because only God can forgive sins,” the pope said.

But Jesus does not accept that human beings live forever with the “ineradicable tattoo” of sin. “Not only are they psychologically reassured, because they are freed from guilt,” the pope said. “Jesus does much more: He offers people who have made mistakes the hope of a new life, a life marked by love.”

Francis listed the many sinners who filled the ranks of the embryo of the Church, from the tax collector Matthew to the wealthy and corrupt Zacchaeus.

“God did not choose people who never made mistakes to be the first dough to create his Church,” Pope Francis said. “The Church is a people of sinners who experience the mercy and the forgiveness of Christ.”

We are all in need of God’s forgiveness in order to transform ourselves and have hope every day, the pope added. “To those who understood this basic truth, God gifts the most beautiful mission in the world,” Francis concluded. “The love for their brothers and sisters, and the announcement of a mercy that He does not deny to anyone.”

The pope finished the audience with a special thought for “our brothers and sisters in Nigeria, in the Central African Republic,” and prayed for them.