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The Peace Pulpit
Homilies by Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton

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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.)

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Third Sunday of Lent
March 23, 2003

Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese
of Detroit, Michigan *

This week's readings **

Exodus 20:1-17 or 20:1-3, 7-8, 12-17

In those days, God delivered all these commandments: "I, the LORD, am your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that place of slavery. You shall not have other gods besides me. You shall not carve idols for yourselves in the shape of anything in the sky above or on the earth below or in the waters beneath the earth; you shall not bow down before them or worship them. For I, the LORD, your God, am a jealous God,  inflicting punishment for their fathers' wickedness on the children of those who hate me, down to the third and fourth generation; but bestowing mercy down to the thousandth generation on the children of those who love me and keep my commandments.

"You shall not take the name of the LORD, your God, in vain. For the LORD will not leave unpunished the one who takes his name in vain.

"Remember to keep holy the sabbath day. Six days you may labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD, your God. No work may be done then either by you, or your son or daughter,  or your male or female slave, or your beast, or by the alien who lives with you. In six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them; but on the seventh day he rested. That is why the LORD has blessed the sabbath day and made it holy.

"Honor your father and your mother, that you may have a long life in the land which the LORD, your God, is giving you. You shall not kill. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. You shall not covet your neighbor's house. You shall not covet your neighbor's wife, nor his male or female slave, nor his ox or ass, nor anything else that belongs to him."

1 Corinthians 1:22-25

Brothers and sisters: Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

John 2:13-25

Since the Passover of the Jews was near, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. He found in the temple area those who sold oxen, sheep, and doves, as well as the money changers seated there. He made a whip out of cords and drove them all out of the temple area, with the sheep and oxen, and spilled the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables, and to those who sold doves he said,
"Take these out of here, and stop making my Father's house a marketplace." His disciples recalled the words of Scripture, 
Zeal for your house will consume me. At this the Jews answered and said to him, "What sign can you show us for doing this?" Jesus answered and said to them, "Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up." The Jews said,  "This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and you will raise it up in three days?" But he was speaking about the temple of his body. Therefore, when he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they came to believe the Scripture and the word Jesus had spoken.

While he was in Jerusalem for the feast of Passover, many began to believe in his name when they saw the signs he was doing. But Jesus would not trust himself to them because he knew them all, and did not need anyone to testify about human nature. He himself understood it well. 

* 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.

As we reflect on today’s Scriptures, it is important that we put them into context of the Scriptures from the first two Sundays of Lent.  You may remember, on the first Sunday of Lent, we had a reading from the first book of Genesis that reminded us of the first Covenant that God had made with all of creation, with all of the human race – the Covenant between God and Noah and the descendants of Noah.

Then last Sunday, we had the story about Abraham and Isaac, his son, and the Covenant that God then entered into with Abraham and Sarah, a Covenant whereby God said, “I will be your God and you will be my people.”

And today, we have in our first lesson, an accounting of what we call the Mosaic Covenant -- the Covenant between God and the people when they were led by Moses.  And God gives them a renewed promise:  “I will be your God.  You will be my people.”  And God’s promise is firm and definite.  “God will be our God!”  But then, on our part, we will be God’s people only if we live up to the directives God gives to us on how to live as people of God.

And so we have spelled out for us today, in the first lesson, those Commandments that really are two sets of directives; one about how we relate to God: “God is God alone and we must put no other gods in place of the one God.”  We must respect God, honor God, and keep sacred the Sabbath day for God.  

And then the other part of the Commandments is how we interact with one another – how we carry out our every day life -- if we are going to be faithful to this Covenant that God offers to us.

In the first part of the Covenant -- the directives, the commandments, where God says:  “I am your God.  You must put no other Gods before me.” -- I suppose most of us seldom use that Commandment about our relationship with God as part of our examination of how faithful we are to the Covenant. 

Oh, I suppose the part of keeping holy the Sabbath -- we examine our conscience on that -- whether we pray faithfully, and worship God faithfully and regularly.  But do we ever ask ourselves:  “Do we put another God in place of the One God?  Do we set up idols?”  

I think we do, sometimes, at least.  Some of you will remember, I’m sure, a few months ago where I was in a dialogue format program with Reverend Jerry Farwell.  Something from that experience stays with me.  It happened right at the end of the program when I had suggested that we were really going to war against Iraq because, as one mother over there who was holding her dying child, said to me:  “This wouldn’t happen to us if it weren’t for the oil.”  

And Reverend Farwell got very agitated and leaped up, almost out of his chair, and he said:  “You can’t suggest that!  That our President, that our Government would take us into war for oil!  That’s blasphemy!”

Well, think about that.  You only commit blasphemy against God.  So, if that’s blasphemy, then for him, going against your government, criticizing your government, then you have made your government God.

And there is a spirit in our midst in this country now.  There is going to be a big march starting up in Sterling Heights -- a car caravan.  They are going to drive down from Sterling Heights through Warren and Roseville and Fraser and so on -- over the whole northeast side of the Metro area saying:  “We must be loyal to our government!”  

Isn’t it appropriate according to the commandment of God that we not say:  “My Government, right or wrong?”  

No!  We have to question it at times, even act against the authorities.  I am not saying that every one of us has to agree with those who say “no” to this war but I am saying that every one of us has a responsibility to make sure we are not simply taking what our government says as the word we must accept and follow.  Only God gives us the word that we must follow.  Only God is the one God and we must put no other idols or gods in place of the one God.  And that God has spoken to us very clearly.  

Isn’t it strange?  Think about this!  The other commandments:  “Thou shalt not lie.  Thou shalt not commit adultery.  Thou shalt not covet your neighbors’ goods.  Thou shalt not steal” -- and so on.  To any of those commandments do we suddenly say, “Well, if certain conditions are fulfilled, it’s OK to steal.  It’s OK to lie.”  

Why is it that only the one that says “Thou shalt not kill” that we can find ways of getting around.  Well, if certain conditions are fulfilled, it’s OK to kill, even innocent people -- or any person whether they are innocent or not.  God says thou shalt not kill.  How do we dare to say that certain conditions make it okay to go against God’s clear word?  

That is a puzzle, I think. Why do we do that so readily.  With only one commandment do we do that.  The rest we understand.  No, you never steal.  That’s wrong.  You don’t lie.  That’s wrong and so on.

Well, part of the reason why, I think, we fail to accept that commandment about not killing as fully as we should, is that we have failed to listen to Jesus. And that is why the other two lessons today are so important to listen to, to take into our hearts.  

The Gospel lesson is an account of an incident that happened and is recorded in all four Gospels.  There aren’t many things you find in every one of the Gospels and so that makes it pretty certain that there are elements of historical truth in this account, that it isn’t just a reflection about Jesus that the faith community came to after his resurrection.  This happened, where on an occasion, he went into the temple and he did what John described today.  

Now, in the other Gospels -- Luke, Matthew and Mark -- this incident is put during the last week in the life of Jesus.  It happens during Holy Week.  And it is almost certainly when it did happen and it is probably the reason why the Jewish leaders then said:  “He’s got to go.”  

He was threatening the institutional life of the temple.  He was threatening those who were exploiting the poor; getting rich off the poor through selling animals for sacrifice.  And this outraged Jesus and he did go into that temple and he knocked over their tables and he told them: “Get out! You’re making the House of God a den of thieves, a marketplace.”  And he wouldn’t let that happen.

But, in John’s Gospel, it’s put right at the beginning of the public life of Jesus, as I mentioned. It’s recorded right after the wedding at Galilee that happens at the beginning of his public life.  

John has a different reason for accounting this than Matthew, Mark and Luke.  They were showing how Jesus had to stand up to the authorities and, when people were letting their religious practices become sacrilegious and were letting them become profane, the zeal for God’s house made him act.  But John is trying to show us who Jesus is.

You’ll notice in John’s Gospel, in the account we have just read, the authorities don’t ask him why he is doing this.  They ask him:  “Who are you that allows you to do this.”  And so John uses this as a revelation of who Jesus really is and so Jesus tells them:  “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.”  

They misunderstood.  They thought he was talking about the building but John points out:  “No!”  The disciples came to realize after Jesus had been executed and raised from the dead, he was talking about his body, that he himself is God in our midst.  You don’t have to go to a building any longer. The temple of God is Jesus; the revelation of God is Jesus.  

That’s what John’s Gospel reveals for us today.  This is God in our midst, showing us how we must live, how we must act according to the New Covenant that he gives to us -- the Covenant that we are preparing to renew as we go through Lent coming to Easter where we will renew our own commitment to follow Jesus because of our baptism.  In this Gospel incident, we are shown who Jesus really is -- Son of God.

And so when we come to interpret the directives and how to live up to the covenant, we have to look to Jesus.  We must look to Jesus.  And that is why Paul’s letter to the Church at Corinth is so important.  He told those first Christians:  “Look. I did not come among you simply to baptize, to celebrate sacraments.”  

He said, “I came to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ!  That’s a message you cannot proclaim in terms of human wisdom because here I am preaching a Christ crucified!  That’s what I have to preach.” This Christ who would accept suffering rather than inflict suffering, a Christ who would allow himself to be killed rather than kill, a Christ who taught us how to die, not how to kill, to die loving and forgiving your enemies, doing good to those who hurt you.  That is the message of Jesus, isn’t it?  We avoid that message.  

Jesus really is showing us there is a different way to overcome injustices, to overcome sin in our world, to transform our world, to make it into the reign of God.  It won’t happen through violence, killing, returning hate for hate, evil for evil.  It won’t happen that way.  The only way it will happen is when we listen deeply to Jesus and follow his way.  

Give up those so-called conditions that allow us to kill and understand that Jesus says the only way you change this world -- the only way you change your heart -- the only way change the hearts of other people -- the only way you change the world -- is through love.  

So often on Sunday, we proclaim the Eucharistic prayer:  “Jesus brought us the good news of life to be lived forever with God and he showed us the way to that life, the only way, the way of love.”  This is the good news. But, as Paul points out so powerfully, to the Jewish leaders it was a scandal, a stumbling block.  They could not get passed this.  And to the Greeks, the so-called intellectuals, it was nonsense, foolishness.
But then, take home with you the word with which Paul concludes that passage -- words that profess a profound truth:  “The foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.”  

Through the foolishness of God and the weakness of God, the reign of God will happen.  We can make peace come into our world.

As we continue to prepare for Easter and for the renewal of our covenant with God, I hope that we will listen deeply to what God has proclaimed to us today.  And be prepared to say:  “I will follow the way of Jesus, the way of love, so that the reign of God will happen in our world.”

     In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  AMEN.

NOTE:  A few weeks ago, we were able to provide you with a reflection on the life of Franz Jagerstatter.  Bishop Gumbleton offered it in place of his homily.  As we mentioned, the Bishop was traveling and unable to give the homily.  However, Bishop Gumbleton did give us a letter explaining his trip and the importance of Franz Jagerstatter.  We are happy to provide you with a copy of that letter.

Dear Friends,
     I am confident that most of us long ago were able to judge that Hitler's war of aggression was evidently evil.  And we may have wondered how Christians in Germany could have supported it.  But with few exceptions, German Catholics and other Christians decided they had to accept their government's decisions to go to war.  One of those who did chose to serve in Hitler's army was an Austrian peasant, Franz Jagerstatter.  Because of his refusal, he was executed by the German government on August 9, 1943.

     Today, I will join with Bishop Maximillian Aichern and others in celebrating Mass in Franz's village of St. Radegund.  The special occasion is the 90th birthday of his widow, Franziska.  Over the past 30 years or so I have come to know Franziska and her family quite well.  I have the greatest admiration for her.  With great courage she managed to withstand the hostility against her and her family because they were looked upon as "unpatriotic" or even as traitors.  It also took a lot of determination and hard work to raise their 3 children.  And I am sure none of us can even begin to comprehend her suffering at the loss of her husband whom she so dearly loved.

     Over the years, Franz and Franziska have been a model for me of what the cost of discipleship might be.  They and their children have been "martyrs" in the truest meaning of that word: "witnesses".  I believe their witness needs to be invoked at this time especially.  Our own country is poised to begin a "preemptive" war against Iraq.  Pope John Paul II and religious leaders and theologians around the world have insisted that such a war of preemption would in fact be a war of aggression and could never be morally justified.  How many of us will have the courage to resist?  How many of us will be willing to pay the cost of genuine discipleship?  

     I am honored to be invited to participate in the ceremonies of St. Radegund.  I hope that I will draws strength and courage from Franz and Franziska and follow their clear living out of the way of Jesus.  

     Please pray for me and for all of us.

Bishop Gumbleton


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