|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.
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April 9, 2006
Its important that we take at least a few moments to reflect in sort of a general way on this very long Gospel that weve heard. There are many parts of it and we could take each part individually and reflect on any one of them for a number of minutes at least. But I suggest what might be the best way is to follow the direction that Bishop Ken Untener used in the Little Black Book* for today. Perhaps, youve read it already this morning. He points out that, in the beginning of the church, after Jesus had died and risen from the dead, when the Christians gathered together to celebrate the Eucharist -- to do what he had said Do this in memory of me -- they would always include some readings.
They would go to the Hebrew Scriptures, perhaps to Isaiah like we heard today or to some other passage, but there were no Christian Scriptures at that time. Im talking shortly after the Christian community first began to form. The Gospels werent written, Pauls letters werent written, and so instead of taking a New Testament lesson as we do, what they undoubtedly did was to start telling different things they remembered about Jesus -- something that had impressed them or moved them or inspired them. They would share their various experiences, but as Bishop Untener pointed out, probably one of the things that a lot of the time they would recount would be the Passion -- the suffering and death of Jesus that we just heard. We know that they probably did this many times because these accounts appear in all four Gospels, and they follow pretty much the same format. They must have, in an oral tradition, begun to be formed and put into kind of a set way in the very beginning.
But you might ask yourself, Why would they focus on this worst part of the message of Jesus? -- the message that he spoke but that also proclaimed by how he acted. Bishop Untener says its probably because they knew the ending. They knew that Jesus was treated with such contempt, that he was rejected by his own family even, but they also knew that Jesus was raised from the dead.
The leaders of the religious community were the ones who hated him perhaps most of all and plotted and made sure the terrible execution was carried out. They remembered all of that but then they also knew that Jesus was raised from the dead. All that suffering, all those terrible things that happened to him were transformed because he responded only with love. Jesus entered into new life and as he had proclaimed, When I am lifted up, I will draw all people to myself. His extraordinary example of love carried out in that ugly execution on the cross transformed everything. The worst thing that could happen to him, the worst suffering, the worst rejection, the worst humiliation, were all transformed because he responded only with love. He was raised from the dead and God affirmed the way of Jesus by raising him from the dead. Thus, as we heard in the second lesson today, at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow, on the earth, below the earth, above the earth, and proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord. Everything was transformed because of how Jesus had acted, and Gods response was to bring new life, fullness of life, everlasting joy and peace -- the reign of God made possible.
And so as we try to understand what the first Christians did and why they concentrated on and retold the story of his death so often when they gathered together, we can begin to understand how, in our own lives, when terrible things happen, no matter what it might be, they can be transformed, these terrible things, through Gods power, through love.
In the last week or so, I read for a second time a book that was written many years ago back in 1956, the book called Night by Elie Wiesel. This is an account of his being in a concentration camp, seeing his mother taken off to be killed and his sister and then his father eventually dying in the camp while he survived. But one of the things he recounts in the book is one occasion when a teenage boy, because he had broken one of the rules of the camp, was hanged and they made all the prisoners walk by and look at this young man hanging there in the gallows, his tongue out in agonized death. And somebody said, Where is God? Where is God at a time like this? They must have asked that question many times in that camp. Where is God? But then some would answer, God is on that gallows. And thats true. God was present there in that young man. And as ugly and as terrible as that was, even that kind of evil can be and will be transformed because of what Jesus has done, how Jesus has given himself over to death, even the ignominious death of the cross and responded with love so that that love could transform the evil, the hatred, the violence -- transform it into goodness, into love.
Thats the promise that we receive through Jesus: No matter what happens to us, if we are rejected as Jesus was, sometimes by our families perhaps, or by the church in a way. My experience with so many of the survivors of sex abuse is that they are being rejected by the church. This to me is a terrible evil but that too can be transformed as they try to respond as Jesus did, with love. See, no matter what happens to us, no matter if we have to suffer abuse, insult, humiliation, physical suffering, pain, illness, all of it, any of it can be transformed, by love.
In writing to that church at Philippi, Paul told them, Have this mind in you which was in Christ Jesus. You have the mind, the attitude, the heart, the spirit of Jesus -- thats what were called to do now as we hear this account of the terrible sufferings of Jesus and his ignominious death on the cross. Were called to have the same mind, the same attitude, the same spirit as Jesus. So that whatever happens to us, if we can respond as Jesus did, with love, with compassion, with concern for others as he always demonstrated, then anything that happens to us, terrible as it might seem at the moment, we can be sure well be transformed by God as we respond with love. Through our experience, just as Jesus, well come to a new life, to a fuller life, a more joyful, a more peace-filled life.
How do we try or bring it about that we can have that mind, the attitude, the heart of Jesus? Well, I think we must listen deeply to the first lesson today where that servant of Yahweh says, Morning after morning, God wakes me to hear, to listen, like a disciple. God has opened my ears. Thats what we must do. Morning after morning, let God open our ears so that we can listen deeply to God, follow Gods way and accept Gods will deeply and completely. We can become a disciple, a learner of the ways of God. As we do that, surely we will begin to have the mind, the heart, the attitude of Jesus and no matter what happens to us, whatever suffering were asked to undertake, whatever we give of ourselves out of love for others, everything we do and even the worst things that happen to us will be transformed through Gods overwhelming love, and we will share the new and fuller life of Jesus.
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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