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. By signing up for our weekly e-mail, you will be notified as soon as each is available. (See the upper right corner of this screen.)
Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
February 12, 2006

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

This week's readings **

Leviticus 13:1-2, 44-46
Then the LORD spoke to Moses and to Aaron, saying, "When a man has on the skin of his body a swelling or a scab or a bright spot, and it becomes an infection of leprosy on the skin of his body, then he shall be brought to Aaron the priest or to one of his sons the priests."
He is a leprous man, he is unclean. The priest shall surely pronounce him unclean; his infection is on his head. "As for the leper who has the infection, his clothes shall be torn, and the hair of his head shall be uncovered, and he shall cover his mustache and cry, 'Unclean! Unclean!' He shall remain unclean all the days during which he has the infection; he is unclean. He shall live alone; his dwelling shall be outside the camp."

1 Corinthians 10:31-11:1
Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense either to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God; just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit but the profit of the many, so that they may be saved. Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.

Mark 1:40-45
And a leper came to Jesus, beseeching Him and falling on his knees before Him, and saying, "If You are willing, You can make me clean." Moved with compassion, Jesus stretched out His hand and touched him, and said to him, "I am willing; be cleansed." Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cleansed. And He sternly warned him and immediately sent him away, and He said to him, "See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them." But he went out and began to proclaim it freely and to spread the news around, to such an extent that Jesus could no longer publicly enter a city, but stayed out in unpopulated areas; and they were coming to Him from everywhere.

* 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.

As I mentioned before we started our celebration of this Eucharist, today we will be baptizing our newest family member: Aidan Abraham Nolan. I hope that as we do that, all of us remind ourselves that what happens when we baptize a new member to our parish family as an infant -- all of us take on a responsibility. This tiny baby will be clothed in Christ today, become a new creation, but he has to continue to grow into the fullness of being like Jesus and so we all have the responsibility of trying to make sure that he and all the tiny and young members of our parish family continue to understand who Jesus is and how we have to model our lives after Jesus.

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It’s a good reminder for every one of us who is already baptized that it is important for us to continue to grow into Jesus. “Have this mind in you,” St. Paul said to the church at Phillipi, “which was in Christ, Jesus.” Have the mind, the attitude, the heart, the values, the way of living of Jesus. It’s something we have to keep on trying to develop our whole life, become more and more like Jesus.

We might wonder, “How do we make that happen?” Well, one of the most important things I believe is we have to come to know Jesus, know who Jesus is, how Jesus acted, what he taught and so on. And we have the opportunity to do that, to come to know Jesus more deeply every week when we come here for Sunday liturgy. When the Gospel message is proclaimed, Jesus speaks. Jesus acts. Jesus shows us who he is, how he lives his life, what his values are. Today we have one example out of all of these Sunday Gospels where if we listen deeply we can come to know Jesus better and perhaps be more determined to model our life on his.

To know Jesus in today’s Gospel requires us to understand something about the Gospel that is very important. One word in the Gospel, the way I’ve read it was when Jesus looked on the man “he had compassion” but do you know what the word really should be? “Jesus was angry.” He was angry!

What happened of course, you know, that as the scriptures were passed down generation after generation, they were written out by hand by scribes and often words would be changed. Particular words for “compassion,” for “pity” and “anger” have the same Greek root and late in the 1500s probably the manuscripts began to show “compassion” instead of “anger,” but the original word was “anger.” Jesus was angry. Probably scribes thought, “That’s not a good thing to say about Jesus -- he got angry. No, it would be better to say he was compassionate. Everybody would accept that.”

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And isn’t it true we sometimes shy away from the idea that Jesus would be angry. But he was! In this incident he was angry. Why? Well, because the people had taken these sick people and shoved them out of their community, excluded them. It was a very harsh thing to do. Not only out of the religious community, but out of the civil community. They had to wander, homeless. In Leviticus we’re told how they were punished because they were ill. “Those who have the sore of leprosy shall keep their garments rent, their heads bare. They shall muffle their mouth. They shall cry out,” about themselves, “ ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ ” In other words don’t come close. “They shall dwell apart, making their abode outside the community.” You can almost hear Jesus if you listen at this point in the Gospel saying, “You have heard it was said of old, ‘Thou shalt...’ ” whatever, “but I say to you: keep changing everything.” He’s bringing in a whole model of love and inclusiveness. We don’t exclude anybody from our community. We welcome everyone.

If we’re going to be like Jesus, perhaps at times we have to be angry. Maybe some of us think, “Well, that’s a sin isn’t, it to be angry?” No, it’s not a sin. Anger is a very good, valid human emotion. When something is wrong, is unjust or is evil, we should be angry. Anger is the emotion that moves us to action, to change things. And that’s why Jesus got angry. He wanted, I’ve said so often, to transform this world into as close an image of the reign of God as possible, so we have to change things. And sometimes it takes your anger to move you to make those changes.

If we look at ourselves individually, as a church family, as a nation, might we discover ways in which we do the very thing that Jesus got angry about? Excluding people? I have a lot of contacts because I’ve sort of developed a ministry with homosexual people -- gay men, lesbian women. It is difficult for them to find what they call a “gay friendly” church, because so many of the Christian, supposedly Christian churches, push them away, even say horrible things about them like they’re an abomination. Or even as our own church document says they’re disordered, “intrinsically disordered.” How evil. We have to change our attitude if we’re going to be like Jesus.

One of the things that I have discovered with the abuse situation in our church, one of the hardest things for the survivors is the way that those who represent the authority within the church, the bishops, have made them enemies. Instead of reaching out pastorally trying to draw them in, trying to heal, they go to court and going to court in our system is adversarial. So now they’re the enemies. We have to fight them off and that’s exactly how many of them have felt. And the wound that they received when they were abused just become even more intense. How different our church should be. If we really were like Jesus, we would reach out and try to embrace those people who were, have been so deeply wounded, so hurt. But we’ve developed an attitude of making them the enemy, accusing them of only wanting money, and that isn’t it at all. They want healing. They want healing more than anything else and unless we become a community that really welcomes people like that and unless our leaders welcome them instead of considering them an adversary in a court situation, they will never get the healing that they need so badly.

There are other ways in which sometimes we exclude people. Sometimes it’s on the basis of class or economics. How many parish churches do you suppose really welcome poor people, homeless people, make them aware that they, even if they’re dressed shabbily, even if they smell, they’re welcome to come be part of the community? I know of a parish in our diocese where there was a homeless man, mentally ill, so he didn’t take care of himself. His family lived right in the parish. It hurt them desperately to see him on the street, but that was his choice and there was nothing they could do about it. He would often go to the parish church, but he was homeless and so his appearance was very shabby looking and he probably did smell, and people complained to the pastor. You know what they did? They put up a sign in that church with his name. He may not enter this church. How evil. How cruel. It just about broke his mother’s heart. Yet it was done by a Christian, supposedly Christian, community.

Should we not be angry about something like that? Of course we should. If we ‘re going to be like Jesus, we have to try to change such things. In our hearts every one of us must look deeply to see how we are. What is our attitude towards others who in some ways are not like us? Maybe they’re homosexuals. Maybe they’re homeless. Maybe they’re ... Well, even in our church we sometimes make differences between black people, white people, rich people, poor people. We want to be with our own only instead of including everybody, making our family the real family of Jesus where everyone is a brother or sister of Jesus and a brother or sister to ourselves.

In our nation there’s something we have to be concerned about when it comes to excluding. There is a law now pending in the Congress. It’s an immigration law. It’s already been passed by the House. It will be submitted to the Senate soon, and they’ll be debating on it. It’s a law that reinforces the idea that we want to keep “those people” out. “Those people” being the poor from Mexico, Central America and Latin America who try to cross our border because they’re desperately hungry. Some of them are desperately sick. They need what we have and instead of our being willing to share it with them, we build a wall, keep them out. And this new law will even say that anyone who even assists them, humanitarian assistance -- Suppose they’ve made it across. They’re starving. They’re dying of thirst. If you give them a drink of water you commit a crime. That’s the kind of law that we’re developing, and what does that say about us as a nation, as a people? Some say we’re a Christian nation. That is very far from the way of Jesus.

“You may have heard it said of old to put people out. I say to you to you: You must welcome everyone. Draw them all in. They are all my brothers and sister,” Jesus would say. You know if that law existed in the time of Jesus he could never have gone from Galilee or Judea to Egypt. He was a refugee. He was homeless and he would have been kept out. He couldn’t enter our country as a homeless person from another nation. How cruel can we be? How cruel are we?

So again, I ask you, think about what will happen in the moment when Aidan is baptized -- he puts on Christ. Each of us have to deepen the way that we put on Christ so that we become more and more like Jesus and we can guide him as he grows up so he becomes more and more like Jesus. All of us must be committed. “Have this mind in you which was in Christ Jesus, who though he was God did not think his divinity something to be clung to but emptied himself and entered into our human history and became one of us -- gave himself over to death even the ignominious death of the cross.” Gave himself completely for us so that we all might become the one family of God, sons and daughters of God, brothers and sisters of Jesus.

We commit ourselves to try to change our lives so that we become more like Jesus and we pass down the values of Jesus to our youngest members.

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

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