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Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese
of Detroit, Michigan *
Acts 2:14a, 36-41
But Peter, standing up with the eleven, lifted up his voice, and
spoke out to them, "Let all the house of Israel therefore know assuredly
that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified."
Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter
and the rest of the apostles, "Brothers, what shall we do?" Peter
said to them, "Repent, and be baptized, everyone of you, in the name of
Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, and you will receive the gift
of the Holy Spirit. For to you is the promise, and to your children,
and to all who are far off, even as many as the Lord our God will call
to himself." With many other words he testified, and exhorted them,
saying, "Save yourselves from this crooked generation!" Then those
who gladly received his word were baptized. There were added that day about
three thousand persons.
1 Peter 2:20b-25
If, when you do well, you patiently endure suffering, this is commendable
with God. For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered
for us, leaving you an example, that you should follow his steps.
He committed no sin, and neither was deceit found in his mouth. When
he was cursed, he didn't curse back. When he suffered, he didn't threaten,
but committed himself to him who judges righteously. His own self
bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sin, we might
live for righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.
For you were going astray like sheep; but are now returned to the shepherd
and overseer of your souls.
Jesus said, "Most assuredly, I tell you, whoever does not enter by the door into the sheep fold, but climbs up some other way, is a thief and a robber. But one who enters in by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name, and leads them out. Whenever he brings out his own sheep, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. They will by no means follow a stranger, but will flee from him; for they don't know the voice of strangers." Jesus spoke this parable to them, but they didn't understand what he was telling them.
Jesus therefore said to them again, "Most assuredly, I tell you,
I am the sheep's door. All who came before me are thieves and robbers,
but the sheep didn't listen to them. I am the door. If anyone
enters in by me, he will be saved, and will go in and go out, and will
find pasture. The thief only comes to steal, kill, and destroy. I
came that they may have life, and may have it abundantly."
* 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.
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
|As we heard in the first lesson
this morning, Peter was explaining how, on Pentecost, the Spirit came upon
the first disciples, where thousands had gathered. He was sharing
with them what had happened and telling them about Jesus. Many of
them had only understood this for the first time about who Jesus was.
As described in the lesson, they were deeply moved, cut to the heart:
ďWhat shall we do, now that we know that this Jesus, whom we crucified,
was the son of God, the Messiah, the anointed one? What should we
All of todayís lessons help us understand who Jesus is and, in a way, I hope, will prompt us to say, ďWhat should we do, now that we know more deeply who this Jesus really is, son of God?Ē
We see not just the Jesus described for us in the first lesson, where we are told how Jesus had lived among them for so long and how he had walked through the hills of Galilee and how he had healed so many. But, also, in the second lesson from the first letter of Peter, weíre reminded again of who Jesus really is and what he did for us. ďRemember the Jesus who suffered for you, leaving you an example so that you may follow in his way. He did no wrong; there was no deceit in his mouth. He did not return insult for insult. And when suffering, he did not curse, but, rather, put himself in the hands of God. He went to the cross burdened with our sins, so that we might die to sin and live an upright life.Ē
I hope we really try to understand what that passage from the letter of Peter is setting forth for us; that is, of how Jesus took our sins upon himself. Sometimes, we put that in terms of: ďHe paid the price for our sins.Ē But thatís not really what itís about. It isnít that God is a God who demands a certain price because we have sinned. Thatís not it at all.
If you remember from just a couple of weeks ago, I shared with you the words of a civil rights worker who was sitting at a lunch counter back in the sixties. Mustard and ketchup were being poured on him and he was being cursed and insulted and so on. It was very hard to understand that a person could take all of that. But then the person explained, ďI 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.Ē
Thatís what Jesus did for us on the cross. He absorbed all the hatred, the evil, and the insults. He had done nothing to deserve it, but he absorbed all of that and transformed it into love. That love is then made available to all of us.
Jesus shows us how, when you donít return evil for evil, insult for insult, hate for hate, but transform it into love, it can transform every one of us. Thatís what it means that Jesus gave himself for our sins and enabled us to live a new life. He transformed sin and hatred into love.
But we also discover more about Jesus in the gospel today. As I mentioned before, the major part of the tenth chapter is about Jesus, the good shepherd. We only hear part of it this morning, but itís enough to give us a sense of how God is a God of love as shown through Jesus, revealed in Jesus.
There are two comparisons that Jesus makes. The first is: ďI am the gate. Anyone who comes through me will have life.Ē That may be a strange comparison for us, because we donít have an understanding of how sheep folds were built or how shepherds functioned. It was a small enclosure, a round enclosure, with stones built up to keep the sheep within a certain area. There was only a small opening and, at night, the shepherd would lie in that opening.
In a sense, the shepherd would lay down his very life for the sheep so that no one could come in or go out, except through the shepherd. Jesus is saying, ďI am that gate. You come in through me and you will have life.Ē
The description of the shepherd in this passage is of a shepherd who knows each one of the sheep by name. Remember that Jesus is revealing God to us in saying he is the good shepherd. Heís telling us that God knows each one of us by name. Weíre not just part of a vast multitude of anonymous people -- God knows me and how important that is.
Iíve always had a sense that people do appreciate it when you know their name. The other night, I was doing a confirmation ceremony at another parish. During the reception period afterwards, I was meeting a bunch of the kids and so one. I always get their names and find out who they are. Later on, I had gone on to other kids and I saw one of the youngsters I had met before and called her by name. And I heard her say to her friends, ďHe knew my name.Ē It may seem like a little thing, but to her it was so important that she was remembered by her name. It shows that Iím unique, Iím special, Iím someone.
Thatís the way God is to every one of us. You are special, unique, someone of great value. Jesus is telling as that the good shepherd, God, knows everyone of us. Thatís a very important thing for us to know about God, how God knows us individually, uniquely, personally.
This gospel of the good shepherd also reminds us that this is a shepherd who does lay down his life for the sheep. Jesus does give himself totally for us.
This is a very important awareness about God, that God is a God totally of love; God who, in Jesus, gives himself completely for all of us, without limit, without condition, without reservation. God loves us and thatís revealed in this image of the good shepherd.
As our responsorial hymn today, we sang from the twenty-third psalm. Itís a psalm that helps us to understand that God truly is a shepherd: ďBecause God is my shepherd, I shall never want. God makes me lie down in green pastures, leads me beside the still waters, restores my soul, and guides me through the right paths. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for God, my shepherd, is beside me.Ē
This is the God thatís being revealed to us today in our scripture lessons. Itís a God we need to come to know, each of us, deeply, through my own experience in prayer, in quiet, in reflection. And as we come to know that God, we ask, ďWhat must we do? What must I do?Ē
As always, we try to put the scriptures, and what we hear from the word of God, within the context of whatís happening in the world around us and within our church. The thing thatís just overwhelming is the scandal thatís going on within the Catholic Church today. Itís amazing to me how much attention is being given to this.
Today, in the New York Times, there are four long separate articles about whatís going on in the church and an editorial about the meeting thatís taking place at the Vatican on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week. Weíre in the news and not in a very good way.
The leadership of our church, the bishops, and of course Iím one of them, so I find it hard -- but our response hasnít been adequate. I have here a letter that Cardinal Maida (Detroit) sent out and asked to be read in all the parishes today. Iím only going to read part of it, but the whole letter will be available next week.
He says at the beginning, ďMy brothers and sisters, these last few months, our Catholic church has been living through unprecedented media coverage about clergy, sexual misconduct, particularly with minors. Itís a topic that will be discussed this coming week in Rome, when I join with other cardinals from around the country for meetings with the Holy Father and Vatican officials.Ē
Then he goes on in the letter to say the policies that have been developed here in the Archdiocese of Detroit and so on. Iíll give you those details later. But then he says in closing, and this is only part of the letter where he refers to this, ďI am asking forgiveness from anyone who was ever abused by one of our priests. I acknowledge the mistakes by church leaders here and elsewhere in managing this situation. The Lord promised to be with us and he has been true to his word. Our church has survived and grown stronger through many different challenges these past centuries, and so we have no reason for fear or alarm. Let us trust in his abiding presence and love, even as we work together to create a stronger and healthier church for the new millennium.Ē
I donít think thatís adequate. We have to change a lot more than that. Itís not enough just to say, ďI ask forgiveness for anyone who was ever abused and I acknowledge mistakes made by church leaders." While not saying that we really need forgiveness, too. Which is the truth. It's the church leaders above all.
As we think about Jesus as the good shepherd, the contrast is so powerful; we have not had good shepherds. So what are we to do?
I think the answer is in the gospel of Saint John. This is a gospel that nowhere speaks about a structure of twelve apostles. It has nothing about a hierarchy. Itís a community. Peter isnít the most important person in the gospel of John. Itís the beloved disciple, the one Jesus loved and who loved Jesus.
The gospel of John comes out of a community where there wasnít a hierarchy and there wasnít structure. It was more of a charismatic community of people who knew that God loved them and who loved God, but then also realized that we must love one another. God is love, and those who love God, must love one another.
The community of the disciples of Jesus, described by Johnís gospel, is a pastoring and a shepherding community. Thatís what needs to happen within our church. We need to have some deep reforms and changes, and it wonít start from above.
Genuine reform of the church never starts from the pope on down. It always starts because people take hold of the message of Jesus and begin to live it in a way they never have before -- with more integrity, more authenticity, more honesty, and more sincerity.
The message of Jesus is so plain. He tells us today who God is. Jesus is revealing God and itís a god who is a god of love. Weíre being called to be people of love and to form a community of love.
It would be marvelous if the newspapers were writing articles that said: ďSee how those Christians love one another.Ē Thatís what they said about the early Christian communities. It was that kind of love which transformed the world and began to make the gospel message spread rapidly and quickly.
As we heard in the first lesson today, three thousand people were converted on that first day, because they knew the love of God in Jesus. It was being manifested to them by those who had first hand knowledge of Jesus.
We have to believe, and maybe this requires real faith for us, but we have to believe that if we all began to live the love that is revealed to us in Jesus, our world could change; it would change rapidly.
What must we do? What must each of us do? What must I do? Thatís the question.
Come to know Jesus and know God revealed in Jesus. Experience that love. Then live it like Jesus. Absorb hatred and anger and violence, and transform it into love. The message is so clear and itís a message that can still change the world, if you and I answered the question: What must I do?
I must know Godís love. I must live it, I must spread it. I must be part of a community of love that carries the message of Jesus everywhere.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son,
and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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