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.)
Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
February 19, 2006

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

This week's readings **

Isaiah 43:18-19, 21-22, 24-25
"Do not call to mind the former things, or ponder things of the past. Behold, I will do something new, now it will spring forth; will you not be aware of it? I will even make a roadway in the wilderness, rivers in the desert.
"The people whom I formed for Myself will declare My praise. Yet you have not called on Me, O Jacob; but you have become weary of Me, O Israel.
"You have bought Me not sweet cane with money, nor have you filled Me with the fat of your sacrifices; rather you have burdened Me with your sins, you have wearied Me with your iniquities. I, even I, am the one who wipes out your transgressions for My own sake, and I will not remember your sins.

2 Corinthians 1:18-22
But as God is faithful, our word to you is not yes and no. For the Son of God, Christ Jesus, who was preached among you by us--by me and Silvanus and Timothy--was not yes and no, but is yes in Him. For as many as are the promises of God, in Him they are yes; therefore also through Him is our Amen to the glory of God through us. Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and anointed us is God, who also sealed us and gave us the Spirit in our hearts as a pledge.

Mark 2:1-12
When He had come back to Capernaum several days afterward, it was heard that He was at home. And many were gathered together, so that there was no longer room, not even near the door; and He was speaking the word to them. And they came, bringing to Him a paralytic, carried by four men. Being unable to get to Him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above Him; and when they had dug an opening, they let down the pallet on which the paralytic was lying. And Jesus seeing their faith said to the paralytic, "Son, your sins are forgiven." But some of the scribes were sitting there and reasoning in their hearts, "Why does this man speak that way? He is blaspheming; who can forgive sins but God alone?" Immediately Jesus, aware in His spirit that they were reasoning that way within themselves, said to them, "Why are you reasoning about these things in your hearts? "Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven'; or to say, 'Get up, and pick up your pallet and walk'? "But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins"--He said to the paralytic, "I say to you, get up, pick up your pallet and go home." And he got up and immediately picked up the pallet and went out in the sight of everyone, so that they were all amazed and were glorifying God, saying, "We have never seen anything like this."

* 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.

There is a detail in today’s Gospel lesson that we might not have noticed as we listened to it. It’s something a bit ominous, in fact, for Jesus. For the first time, teachers of the law, the scribes and the Pharisees, the religious leaders are on hand. They’re watching him. This happens very quickly in Mark’s Gospel. Today we just began the reading of the second chapter, and already in his public life Jesus has become a threat to the religious leaders and I guess if we review very quickly what Mark has told us so far about the public life of Jesus we’ll begin to sense what happened.

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It starts in Mark’s Gospel with the coming of John the Baptist and then immediately Jesus is baptized, goes out into the desert, prays and comes back understanding his role is to go out and spread the good news. He begins to do that and he gathers disciples and then begins to do his healing work, at Peter’s mother-in-law’s house first. After that night of prayer, you remember, a couple weeks ago he was trying to discern what his task really is and then he understands and he can’t stay there in Capernaum where the disciples wanted him to stay. He has to go out and he has to spread the good news.

He has to go into the far away places, out into the desert places, the deserted places. And when he does that, as we heard last Sunday when he comes upon the leper, the leper who was forced out of the community. You remember Jesus became angry about that, about excluding people. Well, he welcomed him and he even touched him. But, of course, that’s breaking the law as I pointed out last week, and that’s what begins to get scribes and the Pharisees, the teachers of the law upset. Jesus says, “Your human laws if they do hurt or harm to people cannot be obeyed. I will not obey a law that requires me to push someone away, exclude someone.” And so he touches that leper and becomes, according to that law, unclean. But that doesn’t bother Jesus. He isn’t interested in following a law for the law’s own sake if the law is unjust, does something harmful. But that threatens the religious leaders, of course. They’re the ones who are the enforcers of the law. They’re the ones who oversee everything. They have the places of authority, the places of honor and prestige. All this is threatened by someone who isn’t going to follow their rules.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus proclaims that he has a prerogative that is God’s alone. Who can forgive sin except God? Well truly only God can forgive sins and bring healing to the sinner. Jesus makes it very clear that he claims that power for himself. This, too, then is very upsetting to the religious leaders. According to their rules and their laws, people would have to bring animals of sacrifice, which they would purchase at the temple. They would have to go through rituals, which would give the religious leaders power over them. All of this is threatened by Jesus. And that’s why they’re beginning to watch him.

And things move along very quickly in Mark’s Gospel. It’s the shortest of the Gospels, but we can see how even at the beginning of this second chapter things are becoming dangerous for Jesus. And what he’s doing, if we take a moment to reflect, is what Isaiah said so powerfully in the first lesson today. Listen again:

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“Remember not the things of the past, the things of long ago consider not. See, I am doing something new. Now it springs forth. Do you not perceive it? You burdened me with your sins, wearied me with your crime. It is I, I who wipe out those sins for my own sake. Your sins I remember no more.”

An extraordinary declaration on the part of God to a people who have been in exile, in slavery, for 50 years. They have been following a kind of theology that said, “We deserve this. We were sinners and so God is punishing us.” They did not want to leave go of that theology, and so Isaiah has to come to them and say, “Look, God is saying something new. Forget that old theology. God is saying, ‘I forgive you.’ You don’t have to go through any rituals, any kind of sin offerings and things like that. I forgive you. It is I who forgives and heals.” He is trying to make the people free, to bring them back. Sadly enough, they weren’t all that eager. They had become somewhat comfortable with their old theology and had come somewhat used to living there in exile even in a kind of slavery. But God insists that something new is happening and calls the people to follow and they do gradually.

But as we listen, then, to what Jesus has done and what especially when you put it in that context of Isaiah, the words of Isaiah speaking for God, God is calling us to something new also. Right now God is calling us to understand that God does forgive our sins! We don’t have to go through various kinds of rituals and so on to be forgiven. God is there waiting to be gracious to us. We need only acknowledge our need of God, our need of forgiveness and it’s there. God is asking us to accept that. And now to begin to act as renewed people, people who are forgiven, who share the very life of God, who take on the work of Jesus, who proclaim the good news. What a difference it could make in our world if we truly accepted this: “I am forgiven. I share the life of God. I’m a disciple of Jesus. I am called to proclaim the good news everywhere in order to transform our world.”

I remind you again of a document that I have quoted many times, I suppose, already. The Peace Day statement of Pope John Paul II for Jan. 1, 2002, the Peace Day after 9/11, when he was grappling with “how do you restore the shattered moral order when there’s such violence like those terrible acts of terrorism that took place on Sept. 11?” How do you do it? How do you respond to that? You know our government responded by going to war. John Paul said no, the only way to respond to that and to restore the shattered moral order, the only way to bring peace is to build it on the two pillars of justice and then the one we hear about today, the pillar of that special kind of love we call forgiveness. The special kind of love we call forgiveness.

If we have been truly forgiven and if we become aware of that and rejoice in that, then as followers of Jesus we are supposed to share that good news, carry the spirit of forgiveness into our world. It’s the most radical teaching of Jesus: “Love your enemies. Forgive those who hurt you. Return good for evil.” We need to hear this again and again until finally we begin to make it our own and to live it.

This past week I came across two very different approaches for what our government should be doing in the world in the face of threats like we did experience in the acts of terrorism. You may be aware our government is beginning to talk about going to war again against Iran. A week ago Saturday in the Senate, the Republican leader Senator Bill Frist insisted that the Congress has the political will to use military force against Iran repeating the mantra: “We cannot allow Iran to become a nuclear nation.” One of the architects of the war against Iraq, Richard Pearle has added his comments to that. He says, “Since one cannot depend on good intelligence it is a matter of ‘take action now or lose the option of taking action.’ ” And here are his words, Richard Pearle, “If we just let our vision of the world go forth and we embrace it entirely and we don’t try to piece together diplomacy but just wage a total war, our children will sing great songs about us years from now.” Advocating going to war again, this time against Iran. Saying, “That’s the way we’re going to rule the world!”

But then the opposite, hopeful thing I think if we are followers of Jesus -- Remember last Sunday Fr. Enda McDonough was here and he spoke late in the afternoon over at Holy Trinity. His message was that now is the time to abolish war, call for the abolition of war:

“My hope is that the people of the United States will be able to listen to a message that the rest of the world, sobered by wars without end can also understand that war itself is the enemy of the human race. Governments will resist this message but their power is dependant upon the obedience of citizens. When that is withdrawn governments are helpless. We have seen this again and again in history. The abolition of war has become not only desirable but absolutely necessary if the planet is to be saved. It is an idea whose time has come.”

That’s the message of Jesus, isn’t it? Love your enemies. Forgive those who persecute you. Return good for evil. Don’t go to war. Abolish war. This is the new message. Isaiah says, “I am proclaiming something new.” Jesus took that up, proclaimed something radically new and shows us the way to peace in the world.

I hope that we might be able to be like Paul who says, “God knows that our dealing with you is not “yes” and “no” just as Jesus whom I preach to you was not “yes” and “no”. With him it was simply, “Yes!” Jesus was one who was, Paul was saying, “Yes” to God. That’s what each of us, if we follow Jesus, must become: “Yes” to God. “Yes” to God, to God’s way and this will bring us to God’s peace.

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

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