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 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 notifed as soon as each is available. (See the upper right corner of this screen.)
First Sunday of Lent
February 29, 2004

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

This week's readings **

Deuteronomy 26:4-10
Moses spoke to the people, saying: "The priest shall receive the basket from you and shall set it in front of the altar of the Lord, your God. Then you shall declare before the Lord, your God, 'My father was a wandering Aramean who went down to Egypt with a small household and lived there as an alien. But there he became a nation great, strong, and numerous. When the Egyptians maltreated and oppressed us, imposing hard labor upon us, we cried to the Lord, the God of our fathers, and he heard our cry and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. He brought us out of Egypt with his strong hand and outstretched arm, with terrifying power, with signs and wonders; and bringing us into this country, he gave us this land flowing with milk and honey. Therefore, I have now brought you the firstfruits of the products of the soil which you, O Lord, have given me.' And having set them before the Lord, your God, you shall bow down in his presence."

Romans 10:8-13
Brothers and sisters: What does Scripture say? The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart --that is, the word of faith that we preach--, for, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. For the Scripture says, No one who believes in him will be put to shame. For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all, enriching all who call upon him. For "everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved."

Luke 4:1-13
Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the desert for forty days, to be tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and when they were over he was hungry. The devil said to him, "If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread." Jesus answered him, "It is written, One does not live on bread alone." Then he took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a single instant. The devil said to him, "I shall give to you all this power and glory; for it has been handed over to me, and I may give it to whomever I wish. All this will be yours, if you worship me." Jesus said to him in reply, "It is written: You shall worship the Lord, your God, and him alone shall you serve." Then he led him to Jerusalem, made him stand on the parapet of the temple, and said to him "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written: He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you, and: With their hands they will support you, lest you dash your foot against a stone." Jesus said to him in reply, "It also says, You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test." When the devil had finished every temptation, he departed from him for a time.

* 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.

Today's gospel is about the temptations of Jesus. To probe deeply into God's word today, we must understand that what is happening in this reading is something that had already happened, in a sense, to the Chosen People. Notice how Jesus goes to the desert for 40 days. That parallels the 40 years that the Chosen People traveled through the desert after they were freed from slavery in Egypt. Then Jesus is tested. Well, during those 40 years that the Jewish people traveled from Egypt to the Promised Land, they were tested time after time.

Reading the book of Deuteronomy, where the journey through the desert is described in greatest detail, we discover how the Chosen People failed the tests. But when Jesus went to the desert and spent 40 days there, he does not fail the test. He passes it and shows us what God expected of him, and therefore what God expects of us who want to be followers of Jesus.

This season of Lent is a time for us to go into the desert to be with Jesus and to be tested as he was. It is a time for us to renew our deep commitment to be his follower and to be faithful to him and his way. So we must try to understand how Jesus was tested, because we too will be tested. Our hope is, as we commit ourselves to enter into this season of Lent, that through our testing, prayer and self-denial we will be able to do as Jesus did. We will accept God's way and follow God's way.

The first test is about wealth. Bread, we use that sometimes as slang for money. There's nothing wrong with eating when you're hungry, of course. But when the devil asked Jesus to turn stones into bread, it was a temptation of greed, of wanting way more than was needed. It's also a test to see if Jesus was willing to trust God. The people in the desert were tested in the same way over and over again. Then they would begin to complain about hardships. They would begin to doubt that God would meet their needs. They even demanded of Moses, "Take us back to Egypt! At least we were able to eat everyday." They refused to trust that God would provide for them. Jesus was tempted in the same way. Do not trust in God; accumulate wealth, he is told.

Jesus answer to the temptation was: You can't live just by wealth, by bread, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God. So he's directing us to go deeply into God's word to find how God is leading us.

In the world in which you and I live it's very difficult not to be captured by the desire to get more and more. Our whole culture promotes the accumulation of wealth. Just this past week, Forbes magazine published its list of the richest people in the world. To me this is a way we glorify wealth. There was a time when that list comprised millionaires and multimillionaires. Now only billionaires get on the list. There are 527 billionaires in the world, and their wealth together is more than one trillion dollars.

If you look at the 527 poorest people in the world, their wealth is nothing. Or think of it this way: the collective wealth of one billion people in the world does not even come close to the wealth of those 527 people. We glorify wealth, and we get caught up in a culture that says have more and more. It's so easy to give in to that. We put our trust in wealth, and no trust in God. The problem with wealth is that we need some wealth, we need enough to live, but when we trust in it and it alone, then we fail to hear God's word. We fail to follow the way of Jesus. Wealth holds us captive, and it destroys our chance of growing in our spiritual life.

And so Jesus rejected wealth.

During Lent, I hope we will be trying to listen deeply every day to the word of God. We will read the word and listen deeply in our hearts, focus on that and learn to trust in God totally, as Jesus did.

Next, the devil tried to tempt Jesus with power. We are easily tempted by power, tempted to dominate, to force people to do what we want. We're tempted by that in our everyday lives. We find ways to exercise power over others, sometimes directly, sometimes subtlety. Jesus invites us reject power.

During Lent, I hope each of us will reflect on what this means. Individually, I think, it means examining our interactions with people so that our relationships are based on trust and integrity. But as a people and as a nation, we can also reject power. Power is always connected with armies and military might, the temptation to dominate the world. Think about how we have become the most powerful nation in the world. We have the largest arsenal in the world. We can exert our will wherever we want and dominate other people. We have wrought terrible destruction on Iraq, where the people are suffering. I have described to you my trips to Iraq. (See The Peace Pulpit for Jan. 25 and Feb. 1.) There is really no hopeful outcome at the moment. The Iraqis don't know what's going to happen to them, because we used our power there to kill and dominate.

In the third temptation, the devil wants Jesus to manipulate God. He tells Jesus: Throw yourself down from the Temple, presume that God will hold you up. This extraordinary feat, the devil said, will attract great attention and then you can persuade, draw people that way. Of course, Jesus rejected that too.

Do you know what that reminds me of? The temptation to manipulate people, attract attention and overwhelm people. Remember what our president said about the war when we went into Iraq? He said the attack would cause "shock and awe." We would use such overwhelming force that we would shock them, shock the world, make people in awe of us. That is totally contrary to the way of Jesus, the way of God. Jesus said no to that temptation, no to shock and awe. Jesus said to reach out in love.

As we reflect on how using power is hurtful, I suggest that today we consider our brothers and sisters in Haiti. The United States has had a relationship with that country from its beginning. Two hundred years ago, we refused to support their revolution. When that country of slaves threw off the colonial power of France, we refused to recognize them. And we have intervened in Haiti many times. In 1915 we invaded and occupied the country, dominating it with a military force until 1934. Over and over again we've done the same thing.

Now when they finally have a freely elected, legitimately elected government, a democracy -- which is what we say we want to promote throughout the world -- we undermine that democracy by refusing to support President Jean Bertrand Aristide, the elected president. Instead we support those who were involved in the coup in 1991. The same ones that were involved the last time are trying to overthrow government now and we're supporting them instead of Aristide. (Editor's Note: Bishop Gumbleton delivered this homily before news that President Aristide had left Haiti was widely known.)

More on Haiti in NCR

     Read a report on Haiti in the March 12 issue of NCR, titled: "Democracy Appears the Loser in Haiti."
     Read two earlier accounts on the NCR Web site: Haiti spiraling into chaos and Street level witness in Haiti.

That is especially tragic when you realize what President Aristide has tried to do. Let me share with you some information from Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), reporting about her trip to Haiti. Congresswoman Waters has profound knowledge of this country. She says President Aristide is pursuing a progressive economic agenda in Haiti. Under his leadership the Haitian government has made major investments in agriculture, public transportation and infrastructure. He has faced strong opposition from the business community. On Feb. 7, 2003, the government doubled the minimum wage from 36 to 70 gourdes per day. That's like going from 50 cents to 75 cents a day. That outraged the rich who are 2 percent of the people and have over 50 percent of the wealth, and because he tried to help the poor, they turned against the president. President Aristide has made health care and education national priorities. Listen to this: More schools were built in Haiti between 1994 and 2000 than between 1804 and 1994. The government expanded school lunch and school bus programs, provides 70 percent subsidies for schoolbooks and uniforms. The maternity wards of eight public hospitals have been renovated. Hundreds of Haitians are being trained as physicians. Twenty new HIV-testing centers will open around the country during the next two years.

All of this is being accomplished despite a continuing embargo by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. We have supported an embargo against humanitarian assistance to this country. They were promised $500 million of international aid from the International Development Bank under the Organization of American States, and the United States has blocked that. A desperately poor country -- because of our power and our misuse of power -- is being made to suffer, is being crucified. Our government is trying to push President Aristide out of office, so that 2 percent of the people can once more control and dominate that tiny country of 8 million people. So that 2 percent of the people, who already have more than 50 percent of the country's wealth, will continue to accumulate more and more of that country's wealth.

Jesus, when he was tempted, told the devil that he would not accept all the power of all the kingdoms of the world. He would not exercise his power in the world through violence and coercion. He would only do it through the power of love, the fascinating power of love. This is what we must try to do in our individual lives, and what we must try to do somehow within our national life.

The temptations of Jesus are instructions. They remind us that we must learn to depend upon God and God alone. That we must trust in God and God's way of love, which means we reject the way of power, the way of shock and awe, the way of violence. Reject all of that and follow the way of Jesus.

As I mentioned earlier, the Chosen People in the desert failed their tests. Jesus did not fail his test. He was willing to trust in God and to follow God's way right up to the cross, and through that death on the cross to the new life with God in his resurrection. We're presented now with the opportunity to go into the desert to try to allow ourselves to be tested and we pray that we will able to pass that test as Jesus did by accepting God's way and not the way of power and wealth, coercion and violence.

Will we pass the test? We have these 40 days of Lent to make the effort. If we really do not depend upon bread but on every word that comes from the mouth of God, I'm sure that we will be able to change and will to come to Easter with a new commitment to follow Jesus.

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

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