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Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese
of Detroit, Michigan *
Isaiah 42:1-4, 6-7
Behold, my servant, whom I uphold; my chosen, with whom I am pleased. I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations, not crying out, nor shouting, nor making his voice heard in the street. A bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick will he not quench, until he establishes justice on the earth; and the isles will wait for his teaching.
I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness, and I have grasped
you by the hand; I formed you and set you as a covenant of the people,
And Peter opened his mouth and said, "In truth, I perceive that God
shows no partiality, but in every nation whoever fears him and works righteously
is acceptable to him. You yourselves know the word which he sent
unto the children of Israel, preaching good tidings of peace by Jesus Christ,
who is Lord of all, as to what has happened throughout all Judaea, beginning
in Galilee, after the baptism which John preached; how God anointed Jesus
of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing
good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with
Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan unto John, to be baptized by
him. John tried to prevent him, saying, "I have need to be baptized
by you, yet you are coming to me?" But Jesus answering said to him,
"Allow it now, for thus it is befitting for us to fulfill all righteousness."
Then he allowed him. And Jesus, after he was baptized, went up straightway
from the water and behold, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw
the Spirit of God descending as a dove, and coming upon him; and a voice
out of the heavens, saying, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well
* A longtime national and international activist in the peace movement, Bishop Gumbleton is a founding member of Pax Christi USA and an outspoken critic of the sanctions against Iraq.
has appeared on numerous radio and television programs, and has published
numerous articles and reports.
** Scripture texts in this work are in modified form from the American Standard Version of the Bible and are available as part of the public domain.
For your convenience, the
Scripture texts, as they appear in the Lectionary for Mass for Use in the
Dioceses of the United States, second typical edition, Copyright ©
1998, 1997, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C.,
may be found at the website of the United States Conference of Catholic
|Those of you who were here a
couple of weeks ago remember that I spoke about the Peace Day message of
Pope John Paul II and quoted the part where John Paul spoke about the situation
of terrorism in this world. He suggested that the only way we were
going to bring peace into our world and end terrorism was through what
he called the two pillars: the pillar of justice and the pillar of
that special kind of love which is forgiveness.
This past week, I reread the Peace Day message more carefully and I got out of it a sense of extreme urgency that Pope John Paul seemed to be feeling -- an urgency about how important it is that we come to grips with the only way we will be able to overcome terrorism.
There are a couple places in the Peace Day statement where he says, for example, “There are certain situations of conflict which endlessly feed deep and divisive hatreds and a seemingly unstoppable sequence of personal and collective tragedies.” It’s almost as if he can’t stop this. In another place, he says, “We live in a world in which the power of evil seems once again to have taken the upper hand and we won’t be able to overcome it.” He also says, “How do we restore the moral and social order subjected to such horrific violence?”
I have a sense, as I read this statement of Pope John Paul, that I know it to be true. He’s very much aware of the fact that the violence we’ve seen could continue to escalate and become worse and worse and worse.
We know that the situation in the Holy Land, where some of our parish members are today, is a situation that keeps on getting more and more violent.
Or India and Pakistan, where both sides are threatening to use nuclear weapons and they are ever closer to war. Desperate efforts are being made to avert that war, but no one is sure that it will be averted.
And so this violence just seems to be getting worse and worse and John Paul is very desperately saying to us, “Heed this message if you want to end the violence and terrorism. It will be only through those pillars of justice and that special kind of love which we call forgiveness.”
If we listen to today’s lessons, it is very clear where Pope John Paul gets this message. He doesn’t dream it up. No, it comes right out of the scripture, the Word of God.
In today’s first lesson taken from the prophet Isaiah, we are presented with the Servant’s Song, as it is called. The servant who is described here is understood in various ways. But, ultimately, the church has come to understand that this servant is really Jesus.
Listen to what God says about the servant through Isaiah. “Here is my servant, my chosen one in whom I am well pleased.” He goes onto say how this servant will bring true justice to the nations. “He will make justice appear in truth and will not waver or be broken until he has established justice on earth.”
So the servant of God, who is Jesus, is called to bring true justice. He is called to be a light to the nations, to open eyes that do not see, free captives oppressed from prison, bring out of light those who sit in darkness. The servant is to transform our world and make it a world of justice and love and light and peace and joy.
But the important part of this passage is how this will happen. It will not happen through force of arms. No, never.
As Isaiah says, “This servant does not shout or raise his voice, does not make proclamations in the streets.” Those are words used when someone is calling others to arms. “This servant will not call anyone to arms so as to bring about war in order to make justice happen.” Instead, the servant is one who acts in such a way that a broken reed he will not crush, nor will he snuff out the light of the wavering wick.”
Poetic words, of course, and yet so clear, aren’t they?
This servant will act with gentleness, with love, with compassion, with forgiveness, never crushing the bruised reed, but bringing it to life. Never snuffing out the wavering flame, but bringing it to life.
It is so clear when you listen to today’s gospel that this really is Jesus. Matthew, clearly, is connecting Jesus with the words of Isaiah. He describes Jesus at his baptism as going down into the river. But, then, when he comes up from the river and begins to pray, God comes down upon him like a dove and rests upon him. Then God proclaims these words, “This is my Son. This is my servant, my beloved, my chosen one.” Now listen to the words of Isaiah, “Here is my servant, my chosen one, in whom I am well pleased”
Clearly, Matthew is saying his servant is Jesus. Then Jesus goes on to begin his work, a work he is called to by God. We understand this when Jesus says to John the Baptist, since John did not want to baptize him, “Look, we must fulfill all righteousness.” And, again, those words have a special meaning -- it is to carry out the will of God.
So Jesus understands that he is to carry out the will of God. He begins his mission and we know how it is to be carried out. It’s a mission of compassion, forgiveness, love, and healing. He proclaims it by his actions when he is being put to death. “Father, forgive them.” He forgives the ones who are putting him to death. And before that, he had proclaimed to all of us, “Love your enemies, forgive those who hurt you, return good for evil.”
Clearly, the way of Jesus, as proclaimed in today’s gospel, is the way of peace, forgiveness and love, the special kind love that is forgiveness. It is the only kind of ‘love’ that will bring healing into our world. It is the only kind of ‘action’ that will bring healing into our world -- the action of forgiveness and love.
Sometimes, we think that this will not work and that you have to use force.
In another part of the Peace Day statement, John Paul says, “Yes, that is always the temptation and, in a short-range point-of-view, violence seems to work. But it will never work in the long run. Ultimately, it will bring more and greater violence.”
You do not have to look very far into history to see that that’s the case.”
I was thinking about our own city of Detroit. It wasn’t many years ago that we had a city that was known throughout the country as the murder capital of the world. I’m sure many of us remember that. We had set record numbers of murders. And I remember one special event. It was maybe twenty years ago now, where it would have been about this time in January, there was a special service held at Saint Paul Episcopal Cathedral on Woodward Avenue. The place was packed with people and religious leaders from every religious denomination. Do you remember what that was about? It was a memorial service for 43 youngsters under the age of 16 who had been murdered by other children under the age of 16.
We were living in a city of horrific violence and it seemed as if there was no way to end it.
But out of that service something happened and you may remember this too. Some of the parents, led by Clementine Barfield, started an organization which they named ‘Save Our Sons and Daughters.’ The acronym is SOSAD.
It was ‘so sad’ what was happening in our city.
But Clementine, who had one of her children murdered during that previous year and another critically injured, said, “The only way to end this is through forgiveness and reconciliation.” And so she formed that organization, SOSAD. It’s still going on in our city. They reached out to those who were doing the violence and doing the killing and they forgave. And reconciliation began to happen.
Our city is not a totally, peaceful city now. But, certainly, it is not the violent place that it once was. No, we were able to be reconciled. Forgiveness and love brought a deeper sense of peace. Our city is better for the fact that Clementine Barfield and SOSAD continue to do their work of helping children to understand ways to settle conflict without violence. They are carrying on programs all the time and it is making a difference.
I’m sure that on a national level the same thing could happen. If we were to really live out our Christian commitment, if we were to really follow what Jesus shows us as the way to peace, it would happen. I’m also sure that that’s the only way it will happen.
In that Peace Day statement, Pope John Paul says, “My ministry of being at the service of the gospel obliges me and, at the same time, gives me strength to insist upon the necessity of forgiveness.” He goes on to say, “Forgiveness, above all, is a personal choice, a decision of the heart, to go against the natural instinct to pay back evil with evil.” What he is saying is that it has to be a personal decision for each one of us -- that I have to make the decision to go against the natural instinct to pay back evil with evil. I have to decide whether I will go that way or whether I will follow the way Jesus.
In a few moments, during the baptism ceremony, all of us will be renewing our own commitment to our baptism, which is a commitment to follow the way of Jesus. I’m going to use these questions as our baptismal promises.
Will you strive for peace within yourself and
seek to be a peacemaker in your daily life?
I hope we will think about it carefully and pray with great fervor that each one of us will be able to say, “Yes, I will follow the way of Jesus, the way that can end the violence within myself, within my family, within my community, and within the world.”
If all of us make this commitment, the beginning of the change can happen for each of us today. It will spread the way of Jesus and bring peace into our world. There is an urgency about this, as I mentioned at the beginning. And so I hope all of us can pray fervently and commit ourselves to follow the way of Jesus.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son,
and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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