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Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese
of Detroit, Michigan *
Isaiah 49:3, 5-6
And the Lord said unto me, "You are my servant; Israel, in whom I
will be glorified." Now the Lord has spoken who formed me from the
womb to be his servant, that Jacob may be brought back to him and that
Israel be gathered to him; and I am made glorious in the sight of the Lord,
and my God is now my strength. The Lord says, "It is too light a
thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and
to restore the survivors of Israel; I will make you a light to the nations,
that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth."
1 Corinthians 1:1-3
Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of
God, and Sosthenes our brother, to the church of God which is at Corinth,
to you who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be holy, with
all those everywhere who call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their
Lord and ours, Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord
John the Baptist saw Jesus coming toward him and said, "Behold, the
Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. He is the one of
whom I said, 'A man is coming after me who ranks ahead of me because he
existed before me.' I did not know him, but the reason why I came
baptizing with water was that he might be made known to Israel."
John testified further, saying, "I saw the Spirit come down like a dove
from heaven and remain upon him. I did not know him, but the one
who sent me to baptize with water told me, 'On whomever you see the Spirit
come down and remain, he is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.'
Now I have seen and testified that he is the Son of God."
* 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
|With a couple of minor changes,
what Paul wrote to the church at Corinth could be written to us today.
So I ask you to listen once more as Paul greets us.
“From Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ by the call of God, and from Sosthenes our brother, to God’s church which is in Detroit at Saint Leo’s, to you whom God has sanctified, set apart, and called to be followers of Jesus.”
That is why we are set apart -- because we have chosen to be among those who follow Jesus Christ.
Today, in the gospel lesson, Jesus is being revealed to us as who he really is, what his task is and how he is to carry out that task. We must listen deeply in the same way that the people who first heard these words or read these words of the evangelist would have heard them. They are words that are specially chosen and allude to passages from the Hebrew Scriptures which help us to truly understand what John is saying about Jesus.
The first thing to note is how John refers to Jesus as the Lamb of God. Anyone who knows the Hebrew Scriptures well would immediately understand that John is referring to a passage in the 53rd chapter of Isaiah where the servant is described (this is the fourth Servant Song): “He was cut off from the land of the living, stricken for his people’s sin. It was the will of Yahweh to crush him with grief. For the anguish he suffered, he will see the light and obtain perfect knowledge. Destroyed because of our sins, he was crushed for our wickedness. Through his punishment, we are made whole. By his wounds, we are healed. He was harshly treated, but unresisting and silent. He humbly submitted like a lamb led to the slaughter or a sheep before the shearer. He did not open his mouth.”
The Lamb of God, Jesus, is one who accepts suffering.
As we hear from the second Servant’s Song, which is our first lesson today, Jesus is one who is called to be a light to all nations, to peoples everywhere for all time and all places. He is also, as the first Servant Song tells us, the one who is to bring true justice to the nations: “Here, being the light to all the nations, bringing true justice to the nations and to all peoples, to the world, everywhere for all time, he must take away the sin of the world.” That’s why Jesus came.
In the gospel, John uses the word ‘sin’ of the world, not ‘sins.’ He’s not talking about our personal, individual sins, but about the basic human rejection of God, the rejection and opposition in the world to all that God is and all that God has done. He’s talking about the basic, fundamental sin within our human history where people have rejected God and God’s ways.
God is a God of love, a God who creates, a God who gives life. But in our world, through sin, we reject this. There’s opposition to it. Instead, we find hatred, violence, destruction and death. Jesus came to take away that sin and to transform our world.
The task of Jesus is to change everything and to make it once more a world where God’s reign can truly happen; where there would be God’s love again fully in every person in every place and there would be peace, joy, fullness of life, and justice for every human being.
Jesus came to take away the sin of the world; the opposition and rejection to God that has been so common throughout human history.
We have that same task to take away the sin of the world and to carry on the work of Jesus and transform our world. But we must do it according to the way of Jesus. That’s why we must listen so carefully to today’s gospel lesson and to the references that John makes when he speaks about Jesus as the Lamb of God.
We must also listen when John speaks about Jesus as the one who now will baptize with the Holy Spirit and bring a whole new Spirit into the world; a Spirit of God in every one of us and calling us to share that Spirit. John is speaking about a passage from the book of the prophet Joel: “In the last days, I will pour out my Spirit on every person. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even upon my maidens, I will pour out my Spirit on that day.”
Jesus came to pour out the Spirit of God. Or, as it is described by the prophet Ezekiel: “Then I shall pour pure water over you and you shall be made clean. I shall give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you. I shall remove your heart of stone and give you a human heart. I shall put my Spirit within you and move you to follow my ways.”
So Jesus came to pour forth that Spirit upon us. He was to baptize, not with water, but with the Holy Spirit. The Spirit can change us and enable us to be like Jesus, to follow the way of the servant, to bring true justice, love, joy, and peace. But we must bring this justice and love as the Lamb of God brings it, by accepting suffering rather than inflicting it. That’s really what Isaiah is saying in chapter 53. “This servant, who is like a lamb, willing to accept suffering rather than inflict it.”
One person who really heard the word of God and understood who Jesus really is and how he came to take away the sin of the world and transform the world was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He understood Jesus as the Lamb of God who would be willing to accept suffering rather than inflict it and in that way absorb the hatred and the violence and transform it into peace and love.
In today’s bulletin, I’ve set forth for all of us to continue to reflect upon the passage that Dr. King proclaimed in 1963, after a time of great violence when the children’s march was interrupted and there was violence, killing and suffering.
Dr. King gathered all of his followers together that night in the church in Birmingham and preached this sermon. He said these words that you’ve heard before but must listen to again and again. Over the noise of Birmingham, over the songs and the sirens, the cries and the clash of battle, there sounded the haunting voice of Martin Luther King. He proclaimed, “We must say to our white brothers and sisters all over the South who try to keep us down, we will match your capacity to inflict suffering with our capacity to endure suffering. We will meet your physical force with spirit force. We will not hate you and, yet, we cannot in good conscience obey your evil laws. Do to us what you will. Threaten our children and we will still love you. Say that we’re too low, that we’re too degraded. Yet, we will still love you. Bomb our homes. Go by our churches early in the morning and bomb them, if you please. We will still love you. We will wear you down by our capacity to suffer. In winning the victory, we will win, not only our freedom, we will so appeal to your heart and your conscience that we will win you in the process.”
Dr. King understood the message of Jesus as the Lamb of God. He understood that the only way to end violence and to end hatred is to transform it by accepting the suffering, accepting the violence, accepting the hatred, and returning it with love.
Extraordinary. You might think it impossible. This is what Dr. King did and what he taught. It’s what the whole movement was about and flows directly from the scripture, the Servant’s Song, from John the Baptist’s description of Jesus of who he is and why he came.
Today, as we celebrate this birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King and the holiday, we must be sure we don’t just put him up on a pedestal. We must really listen to his words which are words that flow from the scriptures of today’s lesson. Then we will be able to join in this work of taking away the sin of the world and transforming it.
Also, we must heed the part of the lesson today that tells us we are to be a light to all the nations; a light bringing the clarity of God’s way wherever we go.
A couple of weeks ago, I visited Lori Berenson in Peru, a young woman from the United States. She has identified herself with the poor and the oppressed in that country and is in jail right now and has been there for six and a half years and is facing a twenty year sentence.
I was truly energized and amazed by Lori Berenson.
You think of a jail as a very dismal place, a very dark place. She was there as a light among the other prisoners. She has identified with their struggle. These are all political prisoners, all people who have been oppressed and put in jail because they are struggling for justice and for peace and for love. Lori Berenson is in their midst. She helps them to see their own worth. She helps them to understand that they are not to be put down and have their rights violated.
The women who are with her are coming alive because of her energy and her determination to stand up for her rights and for her dignity. And they begin to share that. It’s truly amazing what I saw in that prison, this young woman who has become one with the poor and the oppressed and is a light to them.
There are many ways in which any one of us can be a light to those around us. It’s important for each of us to think of the way that “I” can best be a light to others, a light showing the way of Jesus.
There is another example that I read about this week. There are four family members in Afghanistan, right now, of those who were killed on September11. They’ve gone to Afghanistan and are visiting families who have had family members killed in the bombings.
To me, that’s an amazing thing for anyone to do.
These four people are saying, “We don’t want anyone killed in our name. What happened to us was a horror. It was evil. We don’t want it to happen to others. And when it has happened, we want to bring reconciliation and share in their suffering as they share our suffering.” That’s bringing the light of Jesus into a place where there is violence and killing and death. These four people have discovered how they can be the light of Jesus.
Again, each one of us has the task of looking into the world in which we live and trying to discover how we can take away the sin of the world. Literally, we join in this work of Jesus and do it the only way it can be done: his way, the way of peace, reconciliation, forgiveness and love. You have to be like the lamb, ready to accept suffering rather than inflict it. Absorb the hatred and return love. We have to be the light and those who carry the light and presence of Jesus into difficult and dark, destructive places.
Paul wrote to us and said, “You are sanctified. You are holy. You are set apart.” This is true for all of us. We are set apart to do the work of Jesus.
We must pray now that each of us we will discover the way in which we can carry on the work of Jesus to help transform this world in which we live. To help transform it from a world that has rejected God’s love and has brought hatred, violence, destruction and death, into a world where God’s light will break forth, where there will be peace, justice, joy and love. Each of us has some way in which we can do that. We must pray today to discover the way and then do it.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son,
and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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