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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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Now we take just a few moments to reflect in an attempt to discover the deepest meaning of what we have just heard. I am sure all of us are aware of how over the past few weeks, even months, we have been inundated with talk of the film "The Passion of the Christ." The emphasis has been on Jesus being brutalized, victimized, and becoming a helpless victim who seems almost totally passive, being crushed with a kind of a violence that is almost too much for most people to even watch and absorb.
Supposedly, according to that kind of theology, this was what God demanded. God demanded that Jesus be so totally destroyed and suffer so terribly to pay for our sin.
But if we listen really carefully to the scriptures, that's not the message. Jesus was not a helpless victim. What kind of a God would demand that God's only Son be treated that way and demand that kind of a payment? We can almost not imagine a crueler image of God. It certainly does not fit into our understanding of God is. God is love and only love.
Listen to the first reading today. The servant, who serves as a type of Jesus, says: "God has taught me, so I speak as God's disciple. Morning after morning God wakes me up to hear, to listen, like a disciple. God has opened my ear. I have not despaired for God comes to my help. So, like a flint, I set my face knowing that I will not be disgraced."
That does not sound like someone who is to be a helpless victim. That is someone who will suffer but in the midst of that suffering will be strong and confident that God is a God who loves him. The servant is willing to trust, to listen deeply, to follow the way God is leading.
And listen to the Gospel today. You don't find an emphasis on the horror of the sufferings of Jesus. In fact, in that long Gospel, there are only three brief mentions of the suffering: "His sweat fell like drops of blood … the soldiers beat him … he was crucified." That's how Luke describes it. He doesn't try to overwhelm us with the impact of the suffering, because something much deeper is going on. Yes, because of sin, there is hatred, brutality and violence in our world. And it is heaped upon us and we heap it upon one another. It was heaped upon Jesus. But he did not become a helpless victim.
If you follow Jesus through his suffering and death, you will find that Jesus is leading and guiding what is happening. He is accepting and choosing to follow this way of God. He stands before Pilate, as we see in the first station, and Pilate says to him: "Don't you know that I have the power of life and death over you?" Pilate, representing the power of the Roman Empire, is trying to intimidate Jesus. Jesus simply says to Pilate: "You wouldn't have any power over me if it were not given to you from above." Jesus is not intimidated. He does not become the victim of the Roman Empire or of anyone else.
Jesus continues his work of healing even in the midst of all his suffering. When the one disciple uses a sword to try and defend Jesus, he says: "Put it away." And when the disciple cuts off the ear of the servant of the high priest, Jesus reaches out to heal and continues to show love. He continues to be the one who is guiding what is happening. As he goes along the way of the cross, as Luke reminds us today, when He comes upon people who are lamenting and weeping, he says, "Don't weep for me." He reaches out to them and tries to comfort them. He tells them to pray for themselves and for their children, generation after generation.
Even on the cross, Jesus is the one who is in control, if you will, the one who is leading what is happening. He reaches out in compassion to the other criminal crucified next to him: "This day you will be with me in paradise." Jesus knows what is happening and invites the criminal to be with him.
At the very end, Jesus commits himself in total trust to God. "Father, into your hands I hand over my Spirit." He is saying: I die trusting in you who have led me to this. But he was not a victim, helpless and crushed.
Neither did he come back to crush his enemies. You see, those who are preaching this idea that Jesus is the helpless victim are also preaching that Jesus is going to come back as a warrior of God and destroy all of his enemies. That is not the Jesus who is revealed in this gospel or in the scriptures. Jesus, if we listen to St. Paul in our second lesson today, "willingly emptied himself. Though he was God, he did not think his divinity something to be clung to. He emptied himself so that he could become one of us, enter into our human history." Yes, he was handed over to death -- and it was an ignominious death on the cross -- but not to be a helpless victim but to be raised up and glorified, to be the one at whose name every knee on earth, above the earth and under the earth will fall in adoration.
That is who Jesus is.
And why is he raised up? Why is he glorified? Because he continues to show us the way of God that is the way of love. In the midst of all his sufferings, never once did Jesus reach out to retaliate, to condemn, to curse those who abused him. He always responded with love. He responded with total love: "Father, forgive them."
Forgive us! He is not paying some terrible price to a cruel God who demands it. Jesus is following the way of God , the way of love. And Jesus is inviting us to follow the same way. Jesus said earlier in his life: "When I am lifted up, [and he meant when he is raised up on the Cross] I will draw all people to myself." It is love that will change everything and that is the message Jesus is teaching us through his suffering, death and resurrection.
So, as we reflect on his sufferings and death during Holy Week, I hope we will remember most of all that Jesus, when he is raised up draws all people to himself by his love. And I hope that we will try to imitate that love and transform our world by drawing all people to ourselves through love.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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