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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.)
Fourth Sunday of Lent
March 21, 2004

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

This week's readings **

Joshua 5:9a, 10-12
The Lord said to Joshua, "Today I have removed the reproach of Egypt from you." While the Israelites were encamped at Gilgal on the plains of Jericho, they celebrated the Passover on the evening of the fourteenth of the month. On the day after the Passover, they ate of the produce of the land in the form of unleavened cakes and parched grain. On that same day after the Passover, on which they ate of the produce of the land, the manna ceased. No longer was there manna for the Israelites, who that year ate of the yield of the land of Canaan.

2 Corinthians 5:17-21
Brothers and sisters: Whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come. And all this is from God, who has reconciled us to himself through Christ and given us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting their trespasses against them and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. So we are ambassadors for Christ, as if God were appealing through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who did not know sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him.

Luke 15:1-3, 11-32
Tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to listen to Jesus, but the Pharisees and scribes began to complain, saying, "This man welcomes sinners and eats with them." So to them Jesus addressed this parable: "A man had two sons, and the younger son said to his father, 'Father give me the share of your estate that should come to me.' So the father divided the property between them. After a few days, the younger son collected all his belongings and set off to a distant country where he squandered his inheritance on a life of dissipation. When he had freely spent everything, a severe famine struck that country, and he found himself in dire need. So he hired himself out to one of the local citizens who sent him to his farm to tend the swine. And he longed to eat his fill of the pods on which the swine fed, but nobody gave him any. Coming to his senses he thought, 'How many of my father's hired workers have more than enough food to eat, but here am I, dying from hunger. I shall get up and go to my father and I shall say to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers.'" So he got up and went back to his father. While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him. His son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son.' But his father ordered his servants, 'Quickly bring the finest robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Take the fattened calf and slaughter it. Then let us celebrate with a feast, because this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again; he was lost, and has been found.' Then the celebration began. Now the older son had been out in the field and, on his way back, as he neared the house, he heard the sound of music and dancing. He called one of the servants and asked what this might mean. The servant said to him, 'Your brother has returned and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.' He became angry, and when he refused to enter the house, his father came out and pleaded with him. He said to his father in reply, 'Look, all these years I served you and not once did I disobey your orders; yet you never gave me even a young goat to feast on with my friends. But when your son returns who swallowed up your property with prostitutes, for him you slaughter the fattened calf.' He said to him, 'My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours. But now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.'"

* 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.

Yesterday at our day of prayer, which was a very moving experience for all of us, Derrick Edwards opened the day by welcoming us and inviting everyone to recite that mantra we use every so often: "God is good all the time." If we listen to today's scripture, we'll experience that, and maybe understand more deeply how good God really is -- to me, to each one of us. God's goodness is revealed so clearly in the lessons today.

In the first lesson, the chosen people have been struggling through the desert for a long time. Finally, they get to the Promised Land and are ready to celebrate. But Moses reminds them of what God said: "Today I have removed from you the shame of Egypt." It was God's love that reached out to them, God's love that freed them from that slavery. God's initiative. God reached out to them first, and Moses and Joshua wanted the people to know that, to experience it and celebrate it.

God had nourished them during those long years in the desert with manna and quail. God had watched over them every moment. God said to Moses: "I have heard the cries of the people. I've heard them! That's why I have compassion on them." God loved them so much that God freed them from slavery, so now they were ready to celebrate as they entered into the Promised Land. They no longer needed the manna or the quail, because they had their own produce to eat. God is good and the people knew it and rejoiced.

In the second lesson, St. Paul reminds us by referring to creation how everything, including every one of us, is loved into being by a God who is good. Everything is here because of God's goodness and God's love. I'm here because God loved me into being.

St. Paul reminds us of something else that shows us how good God is and how powerful is God's love. St. Paul said: "Whoever is in Christ is a new creation. The old things have passed away. A new world has come." Once we have been baptized into Christ Jesus, we are a whole new creation, living with the very life of God. Paul said: "All of this is the work of God who in Christ reconciled us to God."

You didn't earn this work of God. I didn't earn it. We haven't done anything to merit it. God loves us. That is why we have been made new creatures with the life of Jesus in us. That is why we have been given the inheritance of everlasting life. God is so good. You must begin to let that sink in deeply. God is good. God is good to me. God has made me a new creation in Jesus -- reconciled me, made me whole, made me loving and lovable.

That's how good God is. Jesus, of course, understood this clearly. He went among the sinners, the tax collectors, the prostitutes, because he understood clearly the goodness of God. The people whom everyone else would reject -- to these people, Jesus reached out. Of course, the Pharisees and the scribes, those who thought they were so good, were angry with Jesus. Jesus knew that God wanted him to reach out to the people who needed him most of all, to reach out and draw them back. The Pharisees and scribes couldn't understand that.

Jesus told us a marvelous parable. It's a story that is easy for us to remember, and it's such a powerful story. He told us of two sons. One was obviously no good, a sinner; he wasted all the good things his father had given him living a life of terrible sinfulness, dissipation and self-destruction. The father, who is the image of God, waited patiently for that son to return, and at the first sight of the son coming back, the father rushed out to him. The father ran to embrace the son and to rejoice: "The one who is dead is now alive! My son who was lost is found!" God is filled with joy. The image of the father in that story is powerful and clear.

The father also reached out to the elder son. But that son misunderstood his father's actions. He said: "I have slaved for you all these years"; he didn't realize his father didn't want him to be a slave. The father loved him. The father said to this son: "Don't you realize everything I have is yours?" The son didn't reciprocate in love. He only acted out of an obligation, a sense of servility. Sometimes we are like that, I am afraid. We don't realize how much God loves us. We think we have to do something to merit that love. Well, that's foolish. We can't merit the love of God. It is a gift, pure gift.

What Jesus tried to get us to see by telling that powerful story was that each one of us is loved by God and everything that God has to share is ours. All we have to do is turn toward God, be open and ready to receive God's love poured into our hearts. Those are the words of St. Paul to the church of Rome: "God's love is poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit who is given to us."

St. Paul, in the second lesson today, showed us the depth of God's love, which Jesus knew so clearly. Paul said at the end of the lesson: "Jesus had no sin, but God made him sin so that in him we might share the holiness of God." That seems a strange way to talk about Jesus. "God made him sin." What does Paul mean? Paul is thinking of Jesus hanging on the cross. Perhaps we've seen a movie about the Passion of Christ or, better, perhaps we've made the Way of the Cross and read the scriptures. We realize what it means to hang on the cross, that symbol of hatred, violence and brutality. Everything that happened to Jesus was evil; the hatred, violence and brutality directed at him: being stripped of his garments, totally degraded and nailed to the cross. His hanging on the cross is a sign of sin so dramatic that Paul says: "He became sin for us so that we could be reconciled to God."

How does reconciliation happen? It comes through the way Jesus responded to that hatred and brutality, that sin. He did not respond with hatred or violence; he did not try to be brutal in return. He responded with love and forgiveness.

This reminds me of another story, a story about a Civil Rights worker back in the '60s. Black people weren't allowed to sit at lunch counters, so whites and blacks went together for what they called a "sit-in." As they sat there, they would be insulted and spat upon. People would dump ketchup and mustard on their heads, do anything to show hate to them. One of them, a black person, was asked: "Why don't you respond?" He said: "I will let them kick me and kick me until they have kicked all the hatred out of themselves and into my body where I will transform it into love."

That's what Jesus does for us, and that's what we need to try to do in this world in which we live. Absorb that hatred, that violence, that brutality. Let it be transformed into love within us. That could change the world, if we learn the lesson of how much God loves us.

What God expects of us in return is to love and to respond with love. So, as we reflect on these lessons today, I hope we will come to a deep understanding: God is love, all the time. God loves us, all the time. Rejoice in that and thank God for that. We could spend all our time just thanking God for how good God is to us.

But we also have to learn something from the elder son -- something to avoid. Sometimes we have a tendency not to let God be God. We want God to be like us, and so we resent it when God forgives and when God loves. That's what was wrong with the elder son. He didn't want God to be a God of total and unlimited, unconditional love. That's what we have to be careful to avoid.

We must let God be God and then try to be like God in loving everyone, even our enemy. That, in fact, is the mission that St. Paul gave us. Paul said: "So we present ourselves as ambassadors in the name of Christ." God appeals to the world through us. God has entrusted to us the ministry of reconciliation, a very challenging ministry. If we really listen to what God is saying to us and pay attention to what God is doing for us, we will understand that his ministry for each one of us is a ministry of reconciliation.

Maybe there is someone in our family with whom we have had a falling-out and the relationship needs to be reconciled. Maybe there is somebody at work, at school or in our neighborhood for whom we need to be a minister of reconciliation. Doing so would be imitating God, reaching out as God does.

On a larger scale, in our world, we have to keep trying to live and to carry out this message to end the violence all around us, the violence that overwhelms our country and our world. By living this way of God, we come to a better understanding of how good God is to each one of us and how much God loves us. When we see how God has reached out to us and reconciled us, we can accept that we, too, can be ministers of reconciliation in our world.

As I said, if we really understand how much God loves and live accordingly, everything in our world can change and we will find true peace in our hearts and everywhere.

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

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