Thomas J. Gumbleton
Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese
of Detroit, Michigan *
When they set out from Rephidim, they came to the wilderness of Sinai and camped
in the wilderness; and there Israel camped in front of the mountain. Moses went
up to God, and the LORD called to him from the mountain, saying, "Thus you shall
say to the house of Jacob and tell the sons of Israel: 'You yourselves have seen
what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles' wings, and brought
you to Myself. 'Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant,
then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is
Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.' These are
the words that you shall speak to the sons of Israel."
For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.
For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man
someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in
that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now
been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through
Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of
His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And
not only this, but we also exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through
whom we have now received the reconciliation.
Seeing the people,
He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like
sheep without a shepherd. Then He said to His disciples, "The harvest is
plentiful, but the workers are few. Therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to
send out workers into His harvest." Jesus summoned His twelve disciples and gave
them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every kind of
disease and every kind of sickness. Now the names of the twelve apostles are
these: The first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; and James
the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and
Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the
Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed Him. These twelve Jesus sent
out after instructing them: "Do not go in the way of the Gentiles, and do not
enter any city of the Samaritans; but rather go to the lost sheep of the house
of Israel. And as you go, preach, saying, 'The kingdom of heaven is at hand.'
Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. Freely you
received, freely give.
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
The Web link to Pax Christi is provided as a service to our readers.
I asked Keir and Eric to sing that song before
we began our reflection today because I hope that all of us will leave here with
those words resonating in our minds and our hearts– how God loves us, especially
through Jesus made visible -- that love of God made visible for each of us.
Remember the words “Oh, how God loves you and me." And that’s brought out
so clearly in each of the lessons today.
In the first lesson, Moses reminds the chosen people, who at various times, as
you remember, when they’re traveling through the desert, become very discouraged
and complain because it's a hard journey and there are many times that they are
hungry, they’re homeless, they’re wandering through the desert. But God is
always with them.
And there’s that very beautiful image that Moses uses that we often here
because it’s been written into the song, “On Eagle’s Wings.” “You have seen what
I did to the Egyptians and how I carried you on eagle’s wings and brought you to
myself.” Maybe we’re not so familiar with what that image contains, but it’s a
marvelous image for the love of God. It’s the mother eagle sending the small,
newborn eaglets, I guess we call them, off on their own. They make their first
journey away from the nest, trying to fly on their own. But as they become
tired and can’t carry on, the mother eagle comes under them and spans her wings
and carries the tiny ones on her wings. That’s the love of God, Moses is saying,
carrying the chosen people through the desert but also carrying each one of us.
Whenever we become tired or the journey gets hard or we are confronted with
various kinds of difficulties or suffering, God is like that mother eagle
carrying us on God’s wings. A beautiful way to think about the love of God,
reminding ourselves everyday that God loves you, God loves me -- and God will
always be there to carry us along.
And, of course, in the second lesson St. Paul, in a very dramatic way, points
out how we might understand if someone gave his or her life for a person who is
really good, someone who deserves to have his or her life saved because they
were so good. We might understand the sacrifice of my life for another in that
way. But Paul says that God is so far beyond that. It’s when we were
sinners, when we were far from God, when we were helpless– that’s when God loves
us and God lifts us up. We don’t earn the love of God. It’s a total gift and
it’s always there. It’s so easy for us to forget that. In fact, I think it’s
hard for many of us even to believe that that’s the kind of God we worship, the
God who is love– love without limit, without condition. He doesn’t demand that
we do this, that, or the other thing in order to be loved. God loves us period.
Without any limit. Without any condition. Always and everywhere and forever.
God’s love is always there.
And in the Gospel lesson Jesus also uses a beautiful image to show how in him
the love of God is made so clear, manifest. He speaks of himself as a shepherd.
And for the people who heard him when he first spoke those words there would
have been a very clear resonance. When Jesus says, “I am the Shepard. My heart
goes out to the sheep who are harassed and scattered and I draw them back.”
Well, the people who were listening, especially Matthew’s community ,which was a
Jewish community of Christians, they would remember so well from the book of the
Prophet Ezekiel where the prophet speaks about the “Shepherds have not cared for
my sheep, because you Shepherds have not bothered yourselves about them but fed
yourselves and not the flock.” But then Ezekiel says, “Because of that hear the
word of God. This is what God says, ‘I will ask an account of the Shepherds and
reclaim my sheep from them. No longer shall they tend my flock nor shall there
be Shepherds who feed themselves. I shall save the flock from their mouths and
no longer shall it be food for them.’” Indeed God says this: “I myself will care
for my sheep and watch over them.” And Jesus is proclaiming he is that Shepard,
God in our midst, who is ready to reach out and bring back all of us into the
abundant love of God’s goodness, compassion.
What I hope is that each of us will continue to reflect on these lessons
throughout this day and throughout this week and keep on remembering, “Oh, how
God loves me.” But then, also, Jesus tells his disciples when he sends them out
to proclaim this same good news to let people know that God loves them. He says,
“What you have received as a gift, you must give as a gift.” In the Gospel
lesson, Jesus appoints the 12 whom he sends out. And it’s important to
understand that those 12 represent the 12 tribes of Israel. Well, Jesus was
living on this Earth. His understanding of his mission was to draw the people of
Israel, the chosen people back together again. The tribes had been scattered,
dispersed. Only the tribe of Judah remained as a whole nation and Jesus said,
“You must go out, you 12 disciple, to each of the 12 tribes and bring them
back.” But the love of God and Jesus doesn’t stop there. That’s how it was while
Jesus was here on the Earth. His role or his mission was to draw back the chosen
people, bring them back as a whole people. But, then if we remember further on
in the Gospel, after Jesus has given himself for us and has been raised from the
dead, then he meets with all of his community– the whole community– and he says,
“Now, you must be my disciples to all the nations.” And so he gives to the whole
church, the whole community of disciples this path of knowing the love of God
within ourselves and then going out to proclaim it! To let others know that God
loves them! Proclaim that good news!
And there are various ways that we can do this. A couple of things have happened
during this past week that reminds me of how important it is to carry on this
message of Jesus, to carry on the love of Jesus and how to do it in concrete
ways. After many, many years now of effort, people who have worked so hard to
bring the love of God to the poorest people on our planet by helping them to be
able to rise out of their poverty– the 18 poorest nations on the planet where
people live in absolute poverty– finally, the rich nations have agreed they will
eliminate all their debts. A debt that was destroying those nations because they
paid more in interest than they could pay for education or for medical care. And
so now it’s gone! They have a new chance. Many people worked hard to make that
happen but we have to go beyond that. We’re the richest nation on the planet and
this past week when President Bush and Prime Minister Blair had their press
conference, President Bush proclaimed that, “Well, we’re doing so much that we
give more money than everybody else.” Well, that’s true, in absolute terms, but
not when you consider the amount of wealth we have. Prime Minister Blair wants
to double the aid that’s given to the countries of Africa so they can overcome
the terrible problem of aids that is destroying so many people. We don’t really
give a whole lot as a nation. It’s about 15 cents out of 100 dollars of our
wealth. That’s all. Fifteen cents out of 100 dollars of wealth. We’d be
embarrassed if someone came to us in need and we gave them 15 cents out of 100
dollars and yet that’s what we do as a nation. So we have to keep on trying to
make our nation more generous, really, than it is to keep on reaching out–
proclaiming the good news! That’s a way, a very concrete way, of showing God
loves you! We proclaim that good news by sharing what God has given to us in
such abundance. “What you have been given freely, give freely.”
But, also, there’s a very simple way too that we can do this. It’s in our
bulletin today. Going out into our neighborhood, walking the streets, carrying
the message to the people right around here that God loves them! We’re not going
to be trying to convert everyone to the church, but we want them to know that
this church is here, that we’re a community of disciples of Jesus and that we
love them and we love all the people who live here, where we live among them! So
we’re going to have our evangelization team walking the streets again as we did
last summer, inviting people, welcoming people, but mostly just to let them know
that Jesus, who lives in our midst, loves them just as Jesus loves us.
If all of us keep in mind this beautiful message of today’s scriptures, “Oh, how
God loves you. Oh, how God loves you and me,” and then give that love as freely
as you have received it. If all of us will carry this message in our hearts this
week to try to live it, what a beautiful difference we can make. First of all,
in our own lives, we’ll be living with hope and with joy knowing that God loves
me, but also we’ll be living that spirit of compassion and love that Jesus chose
by going out and spreading the good news: God loves you, God loves me, and
God wants all of us to live in a world that is manifest so that we will live in
a world where there is justice and there truth for every person. The message is
a beautiful message. We must take it to heart and then we must live it. In the
name of the father and of the son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.