|The Peace Pulpit: Homilies by Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton|
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|Fifth Sunday of Lent||
April 2, 2006
The Scriptures today are very powerful -- a profound call to all of us. Especially the Gospel lesson. But to truly understand what is happening in the incident that is described in the Gospel, we have to go back to something that we heard at the beginning of Lent. The first Sunday of Lent, we heard about how Jesus was driven out into the desert to pray for 40 days and 40 nights in deep communion with God, and there he was assaulted by the devil, by very extreme temptations to follow a different way from what God was asking of him. When Luke describes that, he says, When the devil had exhausted every way of tempting Jesus, he left him to return another time. This is what is happening in the Gospel incident today. Its the temptation presented to Jesus once more not to follow Gods way, which is so radical and so different that it seems it cannot really be something that human persons can follow.
The Greeks who wanted to see Jesus are people from outside the chosen people; they are called Greeks, but they are like aliens. They approach Phillip because he is from Bethsaida, which is on the border of the Promised Land of Galilee and beyond that are the outsiders. They heard about Jesus, they want to know Jesus, they want to see Jesus, and remember, this is happening at the beginning of the last week of the life of Jesus. He has just come into Jerusalem, people are proclaiming him the king of the Jews, the one who is going to restore their freedom, their liberty, the one who is going to push out the occupying Romans, the one who will be the great ruler. So these people want to get to know Jesus, but Jesus isnt thinking at all about being a great ruler. He had rejected, in those temptations, what the devil was suggesting -- turn those stones into bread, you will have all the wealth of the world that you would want, people with wealth can do things, get things done, they are powerful; or be a wonderworker, throw yourself from the pinnacle of the Temple and God will hold you up and everybody will be astounded and people will come flocking to you; or have all the kingdoms of the world, the armies, the power, thats how youre going to change the world, dominate it, rule it with power, with armies, with wealth.
But Jesus is not thinking of that. Hes thinking of all thats going to happen to him at the end of the week. Hes going to experience unbelievable suffering, torture and be put to death in the most cruel and shameful way that people could devise.
He tells the parable about the seed falling into the ground. Im sure many of us have been consoled by that parable when we think about our death or the death of someone very close to us, how death is really like a seed falling into the ground and dying so it can break forth into new life. Jesus recites this parable for his own comfort at this moment, I think. He dreads his death -- as we would -- especially the terrible kind of death that he is going to experience. He begins to think about how, through his death, new life can come, marvelous life, unending life -- not just for himself but for all of humankind. So he tells that parable.
It must have been somewhat consoling and reassuring for him, as it would be for any of us. Yet, he still gets to the point where whats going to happen begins to overwhelm him, and the temptation to do it another way must be very attractive, because John tells us that Jesus became very disturbed. The word John uses, the word that says Jesus was emotionally distraught, means torn apart within himself, and then he cries out, What shall I say? God deliver me from this hour? The real temptation is to say, Deliver me from this way, let me go another way, the way that seems so attractive, that seems so sensible, that seems to be how everybody does it.
I think we easily underestimate the turmoil in this reading, the stress that Jesus must have been feeling. We think somehow, Oh, he knew what was going to happen, he wasnt really under stress. No, this is true, he as a human, in his humanness, he fully feared and wanted to reject the way that God was leading him. But then, as he did earlier, with Gods help, he is able to say, No, no, dont deliver me from this hour, this is why I have come, and so God, glorify your name. Then God affirms this by saying, I have glorified it and I will glorify it again. Through the death and the resurrection of Jesus, God will glorify Gods name. And so Jesus accepts the way of God once more and very shortly he will be arrested and it will all begin to happen.
How does he come to accept it? Well certainly because he was in constant communion with God in his prayer, but the other lessons today suggest to us how Jesus must have tried to cope with the devil coming back again and always trying to take him from the way God was leading him.
Jesus at various times, and perhaps even at this instance, remembered those marvelous and beautiful, powerful words of Jeremiah. Here was a time when Gods people were under attack and Jeremiah had been warning them -- this had been going on for 50 years. He kept calling them back and the people kept rejecting Gods way and Gods word. Finally it happened, the Babylonian army came in, they destroyed the Temple, they carried the people off into exile. Now you would think there would be total despair. But there wasnt. Jeremiah, with Gods insight, sees how God can bring good out of evil and how God takes the initiative.
The people have been unfaithful but God takes the initiative once more and says, I will make a new covenant with you. Its something very hopeful. The relationship with God is not going to be destroyed forever and the new covenant is going to be something far more marvelous then the covenant God had made with the people through the agency of Moses and the two tablets with Gods ways written down on them.
Now God says, This is the covenant I shall make with Israel after that time. I will put my law within their hearts. Not just a written law on tablets of stone, but God will enter into the heart of each one. I will be their God and they will be my people. They will not have to teach each other, neighbor or brother or sister, saying they know the Lord, because they will all know me, from the greatest to the lowliest. I will no longer remember their sins and will forgive their wrongdoing.
God will begin to live and speak within the heart of each person, each one of us.
So in spite of the suffering, in spite of the evil that has been present in the world, in spite of what the Chosen People did in failing to live up to the covenant, in spite of how many times we fail, God is reaching out in love, taking a new initiative, making a new covenant with us, assuring us that God will enter into our hearts and write Gods very law of love within our hearts.
Each of us can know God, not through any other person, but each of us has immediate access to God. Thats a very hopeful and beautiful promise on Gods part, and Im sure its what gave Jesus strength.
Also in that passage from the Letter to the Hebrews, were told how Jesus, in the days of his mortal life, suffered with tears and cries, he prayed to God who could save him from death and although he was Son, he learned through suffering what obedience was.
That word obedience is a very important word. It means to listen deeply. So from his suffering, Jesus was able to listen deeply to God and to experience deeply God speaking within him, showing him the way that he must go, assuring him that this is the way that the world will be transformed -- not through wealth and power and armies and kingdoms -- but through the fascinating power of love.
I, when I am lifted up in the Crucifixion and the Resurrection, will be the image of unlimited love. I, when I am lifted up, will draw all people to myself, bring healing to the world, healing to every person, through that fascinating power of love, nothing else, only love and love not just of those who love us but love even of our enemies. Thats how we will transform the world.
Its so clear what Jesus is called to do and he accepts it. Now we as followers of Jesus, are we not called in the same way? To accept the same way of Gods love? How we will bring about the transformation of our world into the reign of God?
There are many ways in which we could apply this powerful Scripture lesson today, but I remind you once more of the program on the death penalty that we are having and how the church is now emphasizing that we must abolish such a cruel thing as the death penalty, must get rid of vindictiveness and vengeance, and love even perpetrators of terrible crimes. The Jesus, who could walk up to Judas, his betrayer, responsible for what was happening, and embrace him and kiss him, is a Jesus who surely is showing us no to the death penalty. Or the Jesus, who, while being lifted up, loving everyone, loves even those who were torturing him. Father, forgive them. Surely that same Jesus is teaching us that we must not, ever, kill another person for any reason whatsoever. Even the guilty person. No, the way of love is a way that has no limits. We love everyone, even our enemies.
The other thing that I think about is this strategic plan of the archdiocese -- its going to affect us. In some ways were going to have to change as a parish family because its very clear from the strategic plan that there will not be one priest for every parish in the Archdiocese of Detroit. Smaller parishes like ours are obviously not going to have their own priest as pastor, which is something that has gone on here for almost 120 years. So its a radical change, and we could be bitter and angry about it, but we can also, like Jesus, learn to listen deeply to our suffering and God will show us the way to new life, to greater life. If we continue to be a community that reaches out in love, then even if we dont have our own priest or if were clustered with another parish or whatever, we can still be a community that demonstrates the way of Gods fascinating power of love. But it will take some prayer and some deep listening, in our suffering, to Gods word so that we can follow Gods way.
In a few moments we will celebrate the sacrament of reconciliation. This is one more time when God shows us how God reaches out with Gods initiative of love that will heal and make us whole. So as we celebrate that sacrament, I hope we will be trying to reflect deeply on all that God has spoken to us this morning, through Gods word. Then we will commit ourselves, truly, to try to reject those ways of power and wealth and violence, the ways of the world, and follow only the way of Jesus, the way that shows us that through the fascinating power of love, we can transform our own lives and transform our world.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
*Editors Note: The Little Black Books that Bishop Gumbleton mentions are produced in the Diocese of Saginaw, Michigan. During his tenure as bishop of the Saginaw, Bishop Ken Untener wrote inspirational passages based on Scripture for each day of special seasons of the Liturgical Church year, Advent, Lent, Easter. The name of each small book comes from the color of its simple cover: black, blue or white. They became so popular that parishes, religious orders, and other folks from beyond the diocese began ordering them. Bishop Untener died March 27, 2004, after a short struggle with cancer. In his honor and memory, his friends in the diocese continue to publish these meditation booklets. To order these books, visit the Web site for the Diocese of Saginaw.
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