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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.)
Second Sunday of Lent
March 7, 2004

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

This week's readings **

Genesis 15:5-12, 17-18
The Lord God took Abram outside and said, "Look up at the sky and count the stars, if you can. Just so," he added, "shall your descendants be." Abram put his faith in the Lord, who credited it to him as an act of righteousness. He then said to him, "I am the Lord who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land as a possession." "O Lord GOD," he asked, "how am I to know that I shall possess it?" He answered him, "Bring me a three-year-old heifer, a three-year-old she-goat, a three-year-old ram, a turtledove, and a young pigeon." Abram brought him all these, split them in two, and placed each half opposite the other; but the birds he did not cut up. Birds of prey swooped down on the carcasses, but Abram stayed with them. As the sun was about to set, a trance fell upon Abram, and a deep, terrifying darkness enveloped him. When the sun had set and it was dark, there appeared a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch, which passed between those pieces. It was on that occasion that the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying: "To your descendants I give this land, from the Wadi of Egypt to the Great River, the Euphrates."

Philippians 3:20; 4:1
Brothers and sisters: Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we also await a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will change our lowly body to conform with his glorified body by the power that enables him also to bring all things into subjection to himself. Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, in this way stand firm in the Lord, beloved.

Luke 9:28b-36
Jesus took Peter, John, and James and went up the mountain to pray. While he was praying his face changed in appearance and his clothing became dazzling white. And behold, two men were conversing with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his exodus that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem. Peter and his companions had been overcome by sleep, but becoming fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. As they were about to part from him, Peter said to Jesus, "Master, it is good that we are here; let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah." But he did not know what he was saying. While he was still speaking, a cloud came and cast a shadow over them, and they became frightened when they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, "This is my chosen Son; listen to him." After the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. They fell silent and did not at that time tell anyone what they had seen.

* 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.

In our opening prayer for Eucharist this morning, we prayed for the grace to listen to Jesus. That's exactly what God asks of us in today's Gospel: Listen to Jesus. I hope that these will be the words we carry with us as we leave church today. I hope we will go back into our daily life ready to listen to Jesus, to where he leads us, to what he asks of us.

To understand today's Gospel lesson, it helps if we look at the context in which the passage is set. St. Luke wrote that just before Jesus went up the mountain, he had a discussion with his disciples, asking them, "Who do people say I am?" and then, "Who do you say I am?" Peter had answered, "You are the Christ, the Messiah." In today's reading, God makes it very clear who Jesus is and why we should listen to him.

On the mountain, two people appear, Moses and Elijah. Now, we might not advert to this immediately ourselves, but anybody who knew the Jewish tradition well would immediately understand: Moses is the law, the scriptures of the Old Testament, the law of God, the Torah. This is important, because God speaks through that law. Elijah symbolizes all the prophets, and God speaks through the prophets.

This coming together means that Jesus is to complete the law and the prophets. More than that, Jesus will transcend the law and the prophets, surpass them. Jesus contains everything that was contained in the law and the prophets, and now Jesus is the one who reveals God to us in fullness. God proclaimed, "This is my son, my chosen one, listen to him."

As we struggle to listen to Jesus, we can also draw from his example. Jesus always listened to God and was discovering in his own life where God was leading him. We might not think of this so often, because we know Jesus is God. But we forget that Jesus is also fully human and like us in every way except sin. Jesus had to discover what God was asking of him, how God wanted him to proclaim God's message, how God wanted him to bring about the transformation of the world, how God wanted him to make the reign of God happen. It wasn't all immediately apparent to Jesus. He learned gradually.

If we look back into Luke's Gospel before today's event, we discover how Jesus is slowly learning by listening to God. We can start at the moment of his baptism, in the fourth chapter of Luke. We discover that after John baptized Jesus in the river Jordan, Jesus went apart by himself to pray. There, Jesus had a powerful experience of God's presence. He heard -- for the first time -- God saying, "Here is my son, my chosen one, in whom I am well pleased." Remember that those words were taken from the book of the prophet Isaiah, the 42nd chapter, the first servant song: "Here is my servant, my chosen one, in whom I am well pleased." The verse in Isaiah continues describing how the servant never uses violence, does not cry aloud in the streets to call people to arms. The servant never quenches the wavering flame or crushes the bruised reed. The servant is always nurturing and loving.

God used those words about Jesus, and Jesus understood that his call was to be the servant who brings justice to the nations and transforms the world. But he was to do it in a new way, through nurturing and loving, never through violence.

In last Sunday's scriptures, we heard how when Jesus was out in the desert praying, he was tempted to go in a different direction from the one God was leading him. He was tempted to use power, violence, wealth and prestige to manipulate people. Jesus had to reject all of that in order to continue to follow God's way.

After this, Luke's Gospel tells us, Jesus came in from the desert -- and one Sabbath, at synagogue, he took up the book of the prophet Isaiah, opened it and read the passage: "The spirit of God is upon me, God tells me to proclaim the good news to the poor, give the blind new sight, set the downtrodden free, to proclaim God's year of favor." Then Jesus said to the people listening to him, "This is fulfilled now, even as you listen." Jesus understood where God had been leading him. He understood his mission to change the world, to transform it into God's reign, to bring true justice and peace to all the nations.

Jesus listened, learned and followed.

In today's Gospel, once more, Jesus has gone apart to pray. Once more, he hears God calling him to this way of love, reconciliation and forgiveness that can lead to peace.

Probe the Gospel carefully. Remember what Luke says Moses and Elijah were talking about with Jesus? It was about his passing. His exodus. Going from this life into the fullness of God's life. They were talking about how he had to go to Jerusalem, how he would be handed over to the torturers, be crucified and put to death. But in all of that, he would continue to love. Jesus heard God asking him to change the world through the fascinating power of God's love. As he completed this time of mystical prayer, Jesus was ready for his mission, and even as he walked down the mountainside from his experience, he was challenging the disciples who were with him. As Jesus began his last journey to Jerusalem, he invited his disciples to come with him. He challenged them to enter into his way of life, his way of death, his way of giving himself over in love in order to transform our world.

Of course, that's the call given to every one of us. As we hear today's Gospel, we must make it very real to ourselves. Jesus invites you and me into this deep, quiet prayer with God, and we, too, can hear God saying to us, "You are my beloved. As you join yourself with Jesus, you can transform this world."

As always, when we hear a challenge like this, there is a question before us. Will we respond to the challenge? Will we say yes? Will we join with Jesus and follow him?

There are two things we should learn about following Jesus from these scripture lessons. First, following Jesus demands that we make changes within ourselves. God isn't going to change things to suit us. Remember that the disciples had been listening to Jesus talk about the reign of God. They had heard Jesus say the reign of God was at hand and was ready to break forth. They thought that meant it was going to happen all at once. They thought the reign of God would come, all of a sudden, and everything would be changed. There would peace, joy, love and life.

Considering today's Gospel, I suppose that when they went up the mountain and experienced the exhilaration of being with Jesus as God was with him, they must have that change had come right then. That's why Peter proposed building three tents. He thought the reign of God had come, and he wanted to stay put. But it wasn't that way. Gradually, the disciples came to understand that it was not the surroundings that had changed. It was Jesus who had changed. Eventually, the disciplines would be changed, too.

And that's what has to happen to us. We must change. That's when the world starts to change, and that's how the world will be transformed. God isn't just going to change everything for us. We must change first, and then the reign of God can happen. That's why we have to listen to Jesus: so that we will change.

Finally, it's not easy to do this. It demands faith. Faith, total trust in God. That's what we learned about in the first lesson today. Abraham and Sarah, in their old age, were suddenly told by God that they were going to have a child, and the child would be the beginning of a whole new nation of people. Incredible. How could that be? Abraham and Sarah believed in God; they trusted in God's word, and it happened. They became the beginning of the chosen people, because they believed and trusted in God.

As we try to accept the challenge presented to us today -- to listen to Jesus, to follow him -- we have to allow ourselves to be changed. More than anything else, we need to try to have the trust in God that Abraham and Sarah had. So we pray that we will believe, trust and then leave church today ready to listen to Jesus and to change our lives.

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

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