The Peace Pulpit:  Homilies by Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton

By special arrangement, The National Catholic Reporter Publishing Company is able to make available Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton's weekly Sunday homilies given at Saint Leo Church, Detroit, MI.  Each homily is transcribed from a tape recording of the actual delivery and made available to you as an NCR Web site exclusive.  You may register for a weekly e-mail reminder that will be sent to you when each new homily is posted. From time to time, Bishop Gumbleton is traveling and unable to provide us with the homily for the week. NOTE: The homilies are available here five days after they are given, always on Friday. You can sign up for a weekly e-mail that will notify you as soon as each is available. (See below.)
Second Sunday in Ordinary Time
January 15, 2006

Thomas J. Gumbleton
Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese
of Detroit, Michigan *

This week's readings **

1 Samuel 3:3-10, 19
And the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the LORD where the ark of God was, that the LORD called Samuel; and he said, "Here I am." Then he ran to Eli and said, "Here I am, for you called me." But he said, "I did not call, lie down again." So he went and lay down. The LORD called yet again, "Samuel!" So Samuel arose and went to Eli and said, "Here I am, for you called me." But he answered, "I did not call, my son, lie down again." Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD, nor had the word of the LORD yet been revealed to him. So the LORD called Samuel again for the third time. And he arose and went to Eli and said, "Here I am, for you called me." Then Eli discerned that the LORD was calling the boy. And Eli said to Samuel, "Go lie down, and it shall be if He calls you, that you shall say, 'Speak, LORD, for Your servant is listening.'" So Samuel went and lay down in his place. Then the LORD came and stood and called as at other times, "Samuel! Samuel!" And Samuel said, "Speak, for Your servant is listening."
Thus Samuel grew and the LORD was with him and let none of his words fail.

1 Corinthians 6:13-15, 17-20
Food is for the stomach and the stomach is for food, but God will do away with both of them Yet the body is not for immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord is for the body. Now God has not only raised the Lord, but will also raise us up through His power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take away the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? May it never be!
But the one who joins himself to the Lord is one spirit with Him. Flee immorality. Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.

John 1:35-42
Again the next day John was standing with two of his disciples, and he looked at Jesus as He walked, and said, "Behold, the Lamb of God!" The two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus. And Jesus turned and saw them following, and said to them, "What do you seek?" They said to Him, "Rabbi (which translated means Teacher), where are You staying?" He said to them, "Come, and you will see." So they came and saw where He was staying; and they stayed with Him that day, for it was about the tenth hour. One of the two who heard John speak and followed Him, was Andrew, Simon Peter's brother. He found first his own brother Simon and said to him, "We have found the Messiah" (which translated means Christ). He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, "You are Simon the son of John; you shall be called Cephas" (which is translated Peter).

* 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.
He 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 Bishops (USCC).

**The Web link to Pax Christi is provided as a service to our readers.

I’m sure that as we listened to that first lesson this morning about that young lad Samuel who is being trained to become a religious leader and had this extraordinary experience of hearing God call him, call him specifically, we wonder, “Would God call me that way? Does God call me that way?” And if God did call us this way, would we respond as Samuel did after Eli instructed him? He was able to say, “Speak God! Your servant is listening. Speak God. Your servant is listening.” Do we have that kind of a disposition? If God were to speak to me, would I really listen? And, of course, listening implies that I would follow, that I would do what God directs and guides me.

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But how would God speak to us? How does God speak to us? I can assure you that if you listen, if you listen deeply, God speaks to every one of us. God speaks to us in many ways. We’ve had this passage a couple of times now in the last couple of weeks, starting with Christmas. “God has spoken in the past through our ancestors, through the prophets.” This is from the letter to the Hebrews, at the very beginning of that letter. “God has spoken in the past through our ancestors, through the prophets, in many different ways although never completely. But in our time God has spoken definitively to us through Jesus. He is the radiant of God’s glory and bears the stamp of God’s hidden being.” So what are we being told here? Yes, God speaks to us in various ways -- through creations, through people we meet -- but most of all through Jesus. Jesus is the fullness of the revelation of God, and so we if really want to listen to God and to be guided on how we should live, how we should act, we have to turn to Jesus.

That, of course, is what the first disciples are doing in the passage we heard from John’s Gospel. John had pointed out Jesus as a very special person. He called him the “lamb of God,” which for those Jewish people would immediately call to mind the 53rd chapter of the book of the prophet Isaiah where a special servant of God in that passage is described as being offered to God as a sacrifice, giving over his whole being to God even though it meant horrendous suffering and even death, the “lamb of God.” Those first disciples know this is someone very special, the servant of Yahweh now present in this one, Jesus. And so they go, spend time with Jesus.

What would they want to know from Jesus, do you suppose? If you had that opportunity, what would you want to find out from Jesus? Well, of course, we would want to find out how to develop our relationship with God, how to become closer to God, how to become the full human person God calls you to be. We would want to find out from someone like Jesus what his values are, where he is leading us, how he will show us to lead a life that is filled with goodness, a life that brings us to a fullness of our humanness. We’re very blessed, because those disciples who had the opportunity to meet Jesus, to talk with Jesus, and the others who gathered after those first four, they remembered what had happened in their interactions with Jesus and they eventually wrote them down. That’s what we have in our Gospel, the recollections of the first disciples of who Jesus was, how Jesus lived, what Jesus taught, what his values were, how we should live, how we should act, how we should follow him.

That, of course, is why we come every Sunday to hear God’s word -- so that we can truly come to know Jesus deeply and be guided by Jesus, so that we can begin to grapple with the big questions: “Why are we here? What is it all about?” So that we can really begin to have a sense of hope, even in a world where there is so much evil present. That’s why we come to Jesus. And, of course, if we really look at the Gospel lessons, listen to them every week, spend time in our daily prayer, reflecting on what Jesus said, how he acted and so on, we will be listening and God will be guiding us.

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There are two areas especially where in the world in which we live Jesus speaks to us in a very powerful way, and we’ve reflected and spoken about these before. The first is about wealth and material goods. We live in the richest nation in the world, the richest nation of all history. We all have more than we need, generally peaking. Jesus challenges us, if we can really listen to him. The 12th chapter of Luke’s Gospel, Jesus says, “Do not be afraid little flock for it is me, God that gives you the kingdom. Sell what you have and give alms. Get yourselves purses that do not wear out and make safe investments with God where no thief comes and no moth destroys. For where your investments are, there will your heart be.” You cannot serve God and money. That’s how Jesus put it in another place. It’s a hard saying that we have to trust in God alone and not in our material wealth.

In a peace day statement some years ago titled, “If You Want Peace Reach Out to the Poor,” Pope John Paul II said this, which is a real clear interpretation of the message of Jesus:

“Christ’s example, no less than his words, is normative for Christians.”

His words are very powerful, but his example is “normative.” And then John Paul describes Jesus:

“He was born in poverty. As a child he was forced to go into exile …”

He was a refugee.

“… with his family. He lived as one who had nowhere to lay his head.”

He was homeless.

“He was denigrated as a glutton, a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.”

He was marginalized, pushed aside from most of the people in society.

“Finally he suffered the death reserved for criminals, but he called the poor ‘blessed’ and assured that the reign of God belonged to them.”

And then John Paul applies it to us”

“In today’s industrialized countries people are dominated by the frenzied race for possession of material goods. The consumer society makes the gap separating rich from poor even more obvious and the uncontrolled search for a comfortable life risks blinding people to the needs of others. It is therefore absolutely essential to stem the unrestrained consumption of earthly goods and to control the creation of artificial needs. Moderation and simplicity ought to become the criteria of our daily lives.”

If we really listen to Jesus -- how he lived, what he said -- we’re going to be challenged profoundly in this world in which we live. If we want to listen to Jesus, we have to be ready to hear what he says and to follow it, and this can be very challenging especially in that area were we tend to want to put our security: our material wealth. Instead of saying, “I can truly depend on God,” we put our trust in our wealth. This goes for us as individuals; it goes for us as a Church. We don’t need huge buildings, lots of wealth to be the community of disciples of Jesus. We could be totally poor and perhaps we would be even more authentically his community if we were, as the church. But that’s a hard lesson for us to accept individually and our church as a whole. Well, I hope in this area we will begin to listen to Jesus.

The other area, of course, and I know you probably can guess what I’m going to bring up, is that Jesus rejected violence for any reason whatsoever. We have to keep coming back to this, because it’s so hard for us truly to accept. He did reject violence. He refused to let anyone use a weapon to defend him, and he would not use any weapon himself in self defense or for any reason. That’s what he taught us. Again, his words and his example are totally clear. St. Paul was amazed by this and in writing to the church at Corinth, you may remember in the very first chapter, Paul speaks about, “Here am I preaching a crucified Christ!” A crucified Christ! Someone who refused to resist violence with violence! He allowed himself to be tortured and killed, and his only response was to love those who were doing it. That’s an extraordinary teaching, but it’s very basic to everything that Jesus is and stands for. And we find it so hard to listen.

One person, of course, who did listen was Martin Luther King, Jr. Tomorrow we celebrate this national holiday in his honor. There’s a new book out about Dr. King, it’s the third book in the trilogy written by Taylor Branch. It’s the last two or three years of his life. One of the things Mr. Branch brings up so clearly is how during those last years of his life it was a constant struggle for Dr. King because everybody was telling him that nonviolence won’t work! “You have to begin to assert ‘black power,’ ” respond to violence with violence.” Dr. King, who was deeply in touch with Jesus, listened to Jesus and knew violence would never bring about the kind of transformation within our society that could lead to peace. It would only lead to horrendous bloodshed and killing. And, of course, that’s what we see all over the world. When people respond to violence with violence, it goes on and on and on. In the Middle East, in the Holy Land where Jesus grew up and lived and proclaimed his message, the violence goes on. The cycle is repeated time after time.

One of those powerful messages that Dr. King gave was on April 4, 1967, a year to the day before he was shot to death. He had been urged by people not to keep on proclaiming this message of nonviolence for individuals but also, as he was doing at that time especially, challenging the United States of America, because we were so deeply involved in the Vietnam and carrying out a war that was bringing massive destruction to that country and to its people as well as costing the lives of many of our own young men and women. They said, “Don’t speak against the war. Don’t get involved in that.” But Dr. King knew that he could not speak for racial justice if he did not speak for justice of all people.

In that talk in Riverside Church on April 4, 1967, he said:

“As I have walked among the desperate, rejected and angry young men,”

he was talking about in the streets of the urban ghettos,

“I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problem, but they asked if our own nation wasn’t using massive doses of violence to solve it’s problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. The questions hit home and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettoes without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today -- my own government. Increasingly this is the role our nation has taken by refusing to give up the privileges and the pleasures that come from the immense profits of overseas investments when machines and computers, profit and property rights are considered more important than people the giant triplets of racism, materialism and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”

So he was making a desperate plea to our nation to give up violence. He said:

“A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”

We have almost $500 billion of our national wealth invested in armaments and so-called programs of defense, programs of violence. How much do we have in programs of social uplift? We cut them constantly. Dr. King’s judgment is that we are approaching spiritual death.

Are we ready to listen to Jesus? To hear God speaking through Jesus that final and definitive words that God speaks? I hope we are, especially in these two areas that are so crucial in the society in which we live. You have to hear what Jesus says and how to put our trust in God. Where your investments are, there is your heart. But we also have to listen to Jesus rejecting violence for any reason whatsoever. When we really listen to Jesus it will begin to change us dramatically from within and then we can help to be agents of change within our world. Perhaps what we prayed for in our opening prayer today will happen. We asked God, “Show us the way to peace.” He has done it through Jesus but we have to listen and follow.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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