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Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese
of Detroit, Michigan *
Now the Lord said to Abram, "Get out of your country, and from your relatives, and from your father's house, to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation. I will bless you, and make your name great. You will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse those who curse you. In you will all of the families of the earth be blessed."
So Abram went, as the Lord had spoken to him.
2 Timothy 1:8b-10
Therefore don't be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me
his prisoner; but endure hardship for the Gospel according to
After six days, Jesus took with him Peter, James, and John his brother,
and brought them up into a high mountain by themselves. He was transfigured
before them. His face shone like the sun, and his garments became as white
as the light. Behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them talking with him.
Then Peter said to Jesus, "Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you want,
let's make three tents here: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah."
While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them.
Behold, a voice came out of the cloud, saying, "This is my beloved Son,
in whom I am well pleased. Listen to him." When the disciples heard it,
they fell on their faces, and were very afraid. Jesus came and touched
them and said, "Get up, and don't be afraid." Lifting up their eyes, they
saw no one, except Jesus alone. As they were coming down from the mountain,
Jesus commanded them, saying, "Don't tell anyone what you saw, until the
Son of Man has risen from the dead."
* 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
|The lessons today speak about
God’s call to each of us to be a disciple of Jesus. And of course there
are many times throughout the year where, in one way or another, we are
urged to respond to the call of God. But maybe on this Sunday of Lent,
as we continue our Lenten journey which is really a journey to deep renewal
of everything that it means to be a baptized disciple of Jesus, we’ll hear
more deeply and be able to follow more faithfully what God is asking of
us if we are truly to be a disciple of Jesus.
In the first lesson, you see the very extraordinary call of Abraham. As I mentioned before in that lesson, Abraham was a person who was quite elderly. He had lived a very long life in one place and family and so on. And, suddenly, God says to Abraham, “I want you to leave all that, let go of everything and go where I guide you.” God made a promise to Abraham that he would be the beginning of a whole new people of God. It’s so clear how God says to Abraham, “Go where I tell you. Let go of everything, follow my call.”
Also, in the second lesson, if we think that the call of Abraham was something quite unique that God gave only to Abraham, we hear Saint Paul telling Timothy and all of us that we ought not to be ashamed of testifying to Jesus. On the contrary, we must do our share for laboring for the gospel because God saved us and called us – a calling which proceeds from God’s own holiness. This did not depend on our merits, but on God’s generosity and God’s initiative. Each of us has to realize that God takes an initiative toward me and toward every one of us. He calls us. It is important then to try to see what this call would be and what it means to have a real change in our lives to follow Jesus.
We get a sense of this from reflecting on what happens to Jesus and the disciples as they ascend that mountain. Jesus is, as we usually say, transfigured before the disciples.
Actually, the word that is used there in the scriptures is a word that would not really be translated as ‘transfigured’ which means you exchange one figure of a person for another. The word suggests something much deeper as a complete transformation.
What happens to Jesus evokes words from Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi where Paul has told those Christians: Have in you the mind that was in Christ Jesus. For though he was God, he emptied himself and was completely transformed and became human - so human that he was even subject to death, even that disgraceful death of the cross.
The Son of God is totally transformed to become one like us. And then what happens on the mountain, the transformation is reversed and the disciples see Jesus as the Son of God. That same kind of transformation is supposed to happen to us.
I discovered from commentaries on the scriptures that there are only two other places where the word that is used to describe what happened to Jesus is found anywhere in the whole Bible.
One of those places is in the letter of Paul to the Romans where Paul says, “Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.” Paul is urging us: Don’t be just like everyone around us, people of this age, this world, this time. But, rather, be transformed by a deep renewal of your mind, of your whole understanding. God is asking us to enter a deep kind of renewal of ourselves.
The other place where that word is used is in the second letter of Paul to the church of Corinth. Paul tells what could happen: With unveiled faces, we must all reflect the glory of Jesus while we are transformed into his likeness. In other words, have this mind in you, which was in Christ Jesus. Be totally changed so that you become like Jesus in your mind, your attitude, your heart, the way you think, and the way you act. Be like Jesus.
As we go on through the season of Lent, I hope that we might each day think of someway we can model ourselves more closely on Jesus or maybe work at for a week. There are many, many different things that come to mind. One of the things that occurs to me about Jesus is how he was so compassionate, totally compassionate.
I was thinking as we made the Way of the Cross this morning at the eighth station where Jesus is being led to death: He’s already been tortured and he’s suffering humiliation and physical suffering. Yet, what does he do at that station when he meets the ones we call the women of Jerusalem? He reaches out to them. He doesn’t think about himself. He’s concerned about them. So even at a moment like that, Jesus has compassion and reaches out in love.
There are various ways that we could do that. I thought of one very good example for us because it is something that is written about in our bulletin today. I don’t know if you’ve noticed it yet, but there’s a beautiful letter from one of our parishioners who is a shut-in. She says, “You’ll never know how good I felt when I received your card for Valentine’s Day. As you know, my son passed away this year and he was the only person I had to care for me. He always gave me a card on Valentine’s Day. This is the first one without him. I just thought there would be no card for me. So you can imagine how nice this was for me. Thank you many times and may God bless all of you.” That’s written to our Christian Service Commission and to all of us through them.
It’s a small act of kindness to write a card to a widow who lost her only son this year and what it meant to her. It really is beautiful. But that’s the kind of thing that we have to do, all of us, each day. Simply reach out to those who are hurting, who are in need, and be compassionate.
Next Sunday, we’ll be having our regular Haiti Sunday, a day when we think about our brothers and sisters at Saint Jerome parish in Haiti. Perhaps, we haven’t really participated in Haiti Sunday so much before, but maybe now during Lent we’ll be even more aware of people like those in Haiti who have nothing. So, during the week, we will make sure to save our alms - maybe through our rice bowl? But however we do it, be ready to make a donation next week and to participate in the celebration of Haiti Sunday.
We must now look again at Jesus transformed on that mountain and think about what had happened just before. As you noticed in Matthew’s gospel, it says six days after that Jesus went up the mountain. What had happened before was that Jesus was teaching his disciples and asked, “Who do you say I am?”
I’m sure that we all know that passage well.
Peter says, “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.” Immediately following this, Jesus in effect says to his disciple, “Yes, I am the Christ, the son of the living God. But now I must go up to Jerusalem and there I’ll be tortured and put to death and on the third day rise again.”
Peter at that point gets upset and says, “No. That should never happen. It should never happen.” It’s one of those times in the gospels when we read how Jesus gets angry at Peter and says, “Get behind me, you Satan. You’re thinking with human thoughts, not with the thoughts of God. You’re not even trying to understand the mystery of death and suffering, and you’re rejecting the whole idea that the world could be transformed through love and forgiveness.”
What Jesus was trying to show them was that through his death and by responding to hatred and to violence with love and goodness, the power of love can transform everything.
This may be the hardest part of trying to follow Jesus - rejecting the ways of the world - as when Jesus says, “You’re thinking human thoughts,” the way that we ordinarily respond to violence with violence, hate with hate, and so on. Jesus says, “No, you must never do that.”
The power of love can change everything. We all need a deep renewal of mind and heart to accept that and to try more and more to live that. It is so hard and yet Jesus shows us that it is the only way to really change our world.
When you think about Jesus on the mountaintop, many of us might recall the mountaintop sermon of Martin Luther King Jr. which he preached the night before he was shot to death. It’s an amazing sermon, one of the most powerful and moving of his whole life. In fact, in a way, it sums up his life.
He was at a point where he was very upset and having severe self-doubts about all that he had been doing. He was wondering if he was making a mistake. You may recall that at this point he was in Memphis, trying to work with the garbage workers who were on strike and were exploited and deprived. People were criticizing him from every side. He had already experienced a very close call where he had almost been stabbed to death. And on the morning when he was leaving from Atlanta to go to Memphis, there was a bomb threat on the plane. So they had to hold up the flight because people were saying they were going to kill Dr. King. He was frightened of that and he did not want to die.
In this sermon, he spoke of the hopes of his people and you’ll like these words, “…not only for long white robes over yonder, but for suits, dresses and shoes to wear down here.”
Martin Luther King was working for justice, trying to change things for the poor. In fact, this is the point at which he had begun to plan for his poor people’s campaign to try and go to Washington with tens of thousand of people and demand what is right for the poor. That is why he was being so terribly criticized. So many people were up in arms against him and he was frightened and doubtful.
Yet, as he spoke that night, he went on to say, “Now it doesn’t matter, it really doesn’t matter what happens now. I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now because I’ve been to the mountaintop. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. But I’m not concerned with that now. I just want to do God’s will and God has allowed me to go up onto the mountain and I’ve looked over and I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you, but I want you to know tonight that we as a people will get to the Promised Land. So I’m happy tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any person. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord and with this faith I will go out and carve a tunnel of hope from a mountain of despair. With this faith we will be able to achieve the new day when all God’s children, black and white, Jew and gentile, protestant and catholic, will be able to join hands and sing with the Negroes in the spiritual of old: Free at last, free at last, thank God almighty, we are free at last.”
Dr. King was really transformed and speaking so powerfully in the way of Jesus. He was ready to accept his death and still to respond with love - the power of love that could change this world.
It’s a dramatic example of what we have to reach for, strive for in our own lives, starting with our relationship with our family, in our communities, at our workplace, at school, and wherever we are. To always respond to hate with love, to violence with nonviolence, and to always follow the way of Jesus as Dr. King showed so clearly in his own life - even matching Jesus in being executed for his efforts.
It’s a difficult call, isn’t it? But we must pray deeply, fervently, asking God that we might hear in my heart what God is asking of me. And if we listen deeply and pray carefully and fervently, God will hear our pray and our call will be more clear, and we will have the strength and courage to follow it.
Yesterday, in reading the scriptures, I came across a passage that I think is a beautiful way that God responds to us when we answer the call. This is in the book of Revelations. It’s an appearance of Jesus where he says, “Look, I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my call and open the door, I will come in and have supper with you and you with me.” So the promise is that Jesus will be very intimately joined with us, coming into our hearts, being with us, to give us the wisdom and courage always to follow the call that he gives to us.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son,
and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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