When the Bible says, "though your sins be like scarlet" God will make them "white as snow," it exaggerates, just like God exaggerates in his willingness to forgive people, Pope Francis said.
"The Lord forgives generously," the pope said Tuesday during his early morning Mass. God never says, "'I will forgive you just this much, then we'll see about the rest.' No. The Lord always forgives everything."
"The Lord exaggerates. But it is the truth," the pope said at the Mass in the Domus Sanctae Marthae, where he lives.
The Lenten call to conversion is a call to seek God's forgiveness and demonstrate sincerity by acts of charity and works of justice, Pope Francis said.
"How can I convert?" one could ask, he said. The prophet Isaiah responded by telling people, "Learn to do good."
"The dirt on your heart isn't washed away like a stain" on clothes, like "going into the drycleaners and coming out clean," the pope said. As the day's first reading, Isaiah 1:10, 16-20, makes clear, the stains of sin are removed "by doing, by taking a different path, another road instead of that of evil."
"And how do I do good? It's easy," he said. Isaiah sums it up as, "Make justice your aim: Redress the wronged, hear the orphan's plea, defend the widow."
Adding "the abandoned elderly" and children without access to school to the list, Pope Francis said that when one goes out to heal the "wounds of humanity where there is so much pain," then "you will cleanse your heart."
Turning to the day's Gospel reading, Matthew 23:1-12, the pope said Jesus warned his disciples -- and he warns people today -- about the hypocrisy of "saying the right things, but doing the opposite."
"All of us are clever," he said, and have the ability to find a way to "seem more virtuous that we are: It's the path of hypocrisy."
Hypocrites, he said, "pretend to convert," but their hearts do not belong to God. "They belong to the father of all lies, Satan. This is fake holiness. Jesus prefers sinners to those people a thousand times over."
Repentant sinners may be sinners, he said, but at least they are honest about it. With Simon Peter they say, "Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man," the pope said.