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The Peace Pulpit
Homilies by Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton

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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.
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Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time 
February 16, 2003

Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese
of Detroit, Michigan *

This week's readings **

Leviticus 13:1-2, 44-46

Yahweh spoke to Moses and to Aaron, saying, "When someone has a rising in his body's skin, or a scab, or a bright spot, and it becomes in the skin of his body the plague of leprosy, then he shall be brought to Aaron the priest, or to one of his sons the priests. If he is a leprous person and unclean, the priest shall surely pronounce him unclean by reason of the sore on his head.

The leper in whom the plague is shall wear torn clothes, and the hair of his head shall hang loose. He shall cover his upper lip, and shall cry, 'Unclean! Unclean!'  All the days in which the plague is in him he shall be unclean. He is unclean. He shall dwell alone. Outside of the camp shall be his dwelling."

1 Corinthians 10:31-11:1

Brothers and sisters, whether you eat, or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.  Give no occasions for stumbling, either to Jews, or to Greeks, or to the assembly of God; just as I try to please everyone in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of the many, that they may be saved. Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ. 

Mark 1:40-45

There came to Jeuss a leper, begging him, kneeling down to him, and saying to him, "If you want to, you can make me clean." Being moved with compassion, Jesus stretched out his hand, and touched him, and said to him, "I do will it. Be made clean." When Jesus had said this, immediately the leprosy departed from the beggar, and he was made clean.  Jesus strictly warned him, and immediately sent him out, and said to him, "See that you say nothing to anybody, but go show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing the things which Moses commanded; that will be proof for them." But the man went out, and began to proclaim it much, and to spread about the matter, so that Jesus could no more openly enter into a city, but was outside in desert places, and they came 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.

To start our reflection on the scriptures today, I thought I would remind us of part of the Eucharistic prayer that we use quite often here at St. Leo's:  "Jesus now lives with you in glory but He is also here on earth among us so we thank you and say: 'Glory to God in the highest.'"

     Let me go on: "And Jesus will come again in the fullness of His glory and in His kingdom there will be no more suffering, no more tears, no more sadness.  So we thank you and say:  ‘Glory to God in the highest'".

     I repeat those words because we do say them so often and I am sure that many times you must think, as I do, that there is so much suffering, so many tears, and so much sadness.  And yet, 2,000 years ago, Jesus said, “The reign of God is at hand.”  He proclaimed that Good News and you have to wonder why, after 2,000 years, that we still have so much suffering, so many tears and so much sadness in our world, so much violence, so much killing.  

     What's happened to the reign of God?  It hasn't broken forth as Jesus seemed to anticipate that it would.  He immediately went out and began to proclaim the Good News everywhere.  He started to gather disciples around Himself and He began to preach and then He began to show us (as recorded in Mark's Gospel) that the reign of God changes everything.

     Remember the last couple of Sundays. We heard how Jesus confronted evil, drove out demons to show that the reign of God overcomes evil.  We saw Jesus going into the home of Simon Peter.  There, finding Simon's mother-in-law ill, he takes her hand, raises her up.

     In today's Gospel, there’s such a beautiful incident. Here is this person afflicted with leprosy and, by the Law, he was an outcast.  He had to separate himself from the rest of the people.  He had to cry out, "Unclean!  Unclean!" so that nobody would come near him.  But Jesus, as Mark says, "just brimming over with compassion, went and touched him.”  He broke the law because there is no greater law than the Law of God's love.  And that's what Jesus was showing us.  

     According to the Law, Jesus himself would be unclean because He touched that man who was an outcast, who had to be rejected by everyone and the man is healed.

     Mark is trying to show us, by recording these incidents and asking us to reflect upon them, what can happen when the reign of God really takes hold in our world.  

     And why hasn't it?  

     Have you ever asked yourself that?  Why hasn't the reign of God come in its fullness--really broken forth--and evil would be transformed totally:  justice, peace, joy to fill our break forth throughout the world.

     Well, if we go back to when Jesus first proclaimed the Good News that the reign of God is at hand.  Remember, he also said something else, "Change your lives!"  That's what has to happen!  Change your lives!  Be converted!   He taught us a whole new way to act...the way of love...the only way to transform our world...  to make the reign of God break forth in its fullness.  Change your lives!  Begin to live according to the way of Jesus!

     I almost hesitate to try to place this into our present contest, but I have to.  I know that it might seem that I keep coming back to the same thing week after week, but we live in the context where violence is being threatened against a nation, and being threatened by our nation.  We cannot ignore it!  

     We tried to make the country of Iraq like an outcast country.  We cut it off from all the other nations in the world.  If you go to Iraq to try to bring healing to people there, to take medicines, you break the law - just as Jesus did to touch that man.  Our laws say you can't do that.  You can't take healing and medicines to the people of Iraq.  You are not allowed to take food or any assistance to them.  

     Can you really believe if you look at the Gospels and, if you look at the way Jesus acted in today's Gospel, that He would hesitate for a moment to try to reach out to the people of Iraq who are suffering so terribly even now and have been for over 12 years?  He never hesitated for a second to go to that man and touch him and bring healing and love into his life.  And I am sure that the fact that Jesus showed such compassion, such love for the man was just as healing as what happened to his body.  His spirit was healed.  He knew he was welcomed back.  He was part of the community because Jesus drew him back in.

     And I believe that if you and I are going to be able to change our lives, to follow the way of Jesus, it probably has to start with something like this where we understand, as Jesus did so clearly, the worth of every person. Every Iraqi person is a child of God just as much as you or I am a child of God.  And every one of them has a value without limit because each of them, just as each of us, is made in the image and likeness of God.

     We may not be aware of it, but I think part of the propaganda (and I will call it that) that our government sets forth to try to justify this war, has got to be an overflow into our minds. Even though they speak mostly about how President Hussein is so unthinkably evil, so brutal, so despotic, but then we begin to think that's the way Iraqis are...that's the way the people of the Middle East are, instead of realizing and making ourselves realize - they are not our enemies.  They are brothers and sisters!  

     I read this week a story about Abraham Lincoln.  It comes out of a play where President Lincoln is describing events to a woman, an almost fanatic woman, supporting the Northern armies and the Union.  He reports to her about a Union victory and he says that this was a great victory, but that 2700 Confederate soldiers were killed and 800 Union soldiers.  And the woman sounding almost ecstatic says, "How splendid!"  And President Lincoln was stunned.  He said, “But there were 3500 human beings killed!”  And she said, "Oh, that doesn't matter.  Only 800 of them counted!"

     The President was saddened and with great emotion he said to her: "The world is much larger than your heart."  He wanted her to understand as he did, obviously, that everyone is a human person and we cannot dismiss or discount anybody on this planet.  

     That is true of our Iraqi brothers and sisters also.  We must learn as Jesus teaches us so clearly today.  He broke the law.  He reached out and touched that person because he knew the worth of that person.

     And that is the spirit we have to begin to develop in our hearts, that kind of compassion for every person. I believe that if we begin with that, to try to deepen within ourselves an awareness of the value of every person in the spirit of compassion, that is, trying to put ourselves in the shoes of the other, to share with emotionally, that's what it means to be compassionate, to share the sufferings, the joys, the feelings of another, just as much as that person feels suffering, hurt, rejection.  

     If we can begin to have a sense of what it means to be an Iraqi person right now and to reach out in compassion, we will understand that war is not the way that Jesus would act.  And we can build up our own determination to continue to resist this war, to make sure that it doesn't happen and that there aren't tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands of people slaughtered through war.  

     If we think about it, we can come to understand that the reign of God really could happen.  There could be no more suffering, no more tears, no more sadness. But that will only happen when all of us begin to live according to the way of Jesus.  Start with that sense of compassion and love and it will lead us to reject all violence, all killing and it will lead us to follow the way of Jesus.

     And just as surely as Jesus healed that leper in today's Gospel, Jesus will heal our hearts.  Jesus will help us to develop the Spirit that he had - of compassion and love.  He will guide us and show us how to live according to His way and then, as He promised, the reign of God is at hand.  It is right now if we are willing to live His way. It will begin to happen in our hearts and we can make it spread throughout our world.

     In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  AMEN.


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