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|The Peace Pulpit: Homilies by Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton|
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
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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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