|The Peace Pulpit: Homilies by Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton|
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|Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time||
June 19, 2005
This part of Matthew's Gospel is called "The Mission Discourse of Jesus." It's the part where he's instructing his disciples on what they are to do, how they are to act and also what might happen to them if they are faithful as his disciples, his followers. Obviously one of the very important things the disciples must do is what Jesus speaks about in this part of the 10th chapter of Matthew. They have to witness, speak out on the house tops, proclaim God's word, announce the way of Jesus. Not just in words, but by the way they live. They are to be his witnesses wherever they go. And, of course, at times they will, if they're really faithful to the way of Jesus, they will draw resentment and anger. People will be upset because the word of Jesus is not an easy word to proclaim or to accept and to live. And so we're challenged by it at times and we don't like to hear what God is really asking of us. So sometimes our reaction will be to take it out on the one who proclaimed that word of God, the witnesses, the prophets.
If we look at our first lesson today we learn something about what it means to be a prophet, a witness, one who proclaims the word of God through Jesus and the way of Jesus. First of all, it might be important to remember that those who are prophets are often not those who are powerful, who are in places of authority either in the secular world or within the church. When Jeremiah was called by God to be a prophet he was just a young teenager. He was probably 15 or 16 years old. Who would have thought that he could stand up against a priest like Pashhur who in the earlier part of the passage we heard today is the one who attacked Jeremiah because Jeremiah had spoken out against the priest and the temple and those in authority. So they attacked him. They wanted to destroy him. Jeremiah was a lay person, if you want to put in it in our terms. He was not part of the leadership of the religious community of the Jewish people of the times. He was someone who would seem to have no power. But God spoke through him because he was willing to allow himself to be God's prophet.
So we must, I think as we reflect on today's lesson, realize that God is asking everyone of us to be a prophet, to proclaim the message of Jesus. Again, not just with our words, but with our lives. And to challenge the ways of the world that are against the way of Jesus or even the way of the church when sometimes its leaders act against the way of Jesus. That might be a new way for us to think that sometimes we have to speak out against our civil leaders or even our church leaders. We might think, "Well, no. That couldn't be. Me? God wants me to be the one to speak out?" It's a frightening prospect. And it also might earn us the kind of reaction that Jeremiah got. They put him in stocks, held him prisoner. Later they threw him down into a cistern to kill him. They were trying to get rid of him. They didn't want to hear God's word.
This year we have already remembered the end of World War II as it took place in Europe 60 years ago. In a couple of months we'll be remembering the end of World War II in the Pacific that ended with the terrible, what Pope Paul VI called "butchery of untold magnitude," the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I was thinking about that as I was thinking about today's lessons and thinking about who were the prophets back then. You know we have a pope now who comes from Germany, who actually was in the Nazi Youth Corp when he was a teenager. Who was in the Nazi military. He was captured and held as a prisoner of war. What was the church saying back then? Who were the prophets, if there were any? The cardinal archbishop of Munich, who ordained Joseph Ratzinger into the priesthood, lunched with Hitler at Obersalzburg in 1936 and voiced support for the Führer and denounced atheistic Jews. In his 1933 advent sermon, Cardinal Faulhaber expressed what were thoroughly and publicly anti-Semitic words. He said in 1943, "Nobody in his heart can possibly wish an unsuccessful outcome of the war."
This is an example of a lenient church supporting Nazi ideology because it was this bishop's nation waging that war. You have to be patriotic. You have to love your country, do what your nation tells you. Even a leader of the church could fall into that trap. Now we can look back very easily and say, "Why didn't they know better?" Why didn't they understand the pagan ideology which Nazism was? Why didn't the church speak out against it, tell young people, "You can't fight in Hitler's wars"? Well, there were some who did but they weren't the leaders of the church.
It was in 1943 that Cardinal Faulhaber said, "Nobody in his heart could possibly wish an unsuccessful outcome of the war." That was the same year that a young peasant from Austria, who actually lived just a few miles from were Cardinal Faulhaber was the archbishop, Franz Jagerstatter spoke out against that war. On August 9, 1943 -- that same year -- Jagerstatter was beheaded. He was a witness to God's words and ways; he rejected the pagan violence of Nazism and its attempts to terrorize the world and conquer the world. There were others who spoke out. It's sad but true that Joseph Ratzinger joined the Nazi Youth. He even joined the Nazi Army but there were dissidents. There was a group gathered around Walter Klingenbeck of Munich, a mechanic's apprentice. A mechanic's apprentice. He was an ordinary everyday person -- like anyone of us -- who printed and duplicated flyers that proclaimed, "Down with Hitler and Hitler's wars." He was beheaded in 1942. There was a whole group of young people called the White Rose Group led by Hans Scholl and his sister Sophie in Munich. They spoke out against Hitler and the war. They too were executed. There were prophets then but people were not listening to the prophets. Very few were willing to be real witnesses to Jesus and to his ways of rejecting violence and hatred and war.
What about today? Where do we stand when it comes to blindly supporting what our government tells us? Where do we stand in instructing young people? Today Joseph Ratzinger says, "Never again war. No, never again war." And he pleads with young people not to go and wage war, enter into violence and killing. He appeals to young people to respond to violence, to respond to hatred and exaggerated nationalism. He says, "Respond to it with the fantastic power of love." The fascinating power of love he calls it. That's what he's now preaching and thank God that he is, but are we listening? Have we learned the lesson that we could learn from that terrible experience of World War II?
In our bulletin today there's a notice about a demonstration that will take place at Oak Ridge, Tenn., on Aug. 6, the 60th anniversary of Hiroshima, protesting our nation's continued development of nuclear weapons. How many of us will be willing to support such actions of protest, demand that our government stop violating the the Non-proliferation Treaty. We're ready to go to war against Iran or North Korea because we say they're violating the Non-proliferation Treaty. Well, so are we. How many of us are ready to stand up and reject that and be witnesses to the way of Jesus? If we can't stand up and be the witness at least, I hope, we will listen to those who are the prophetic voices among us in regard to this most crucial issue of our day, the issue of weapons of mass destruction that are proliferating around the world very rapidly with us in a leadership role.
There's another area that might seem not nearly so important as that of ending weapons of mass destruction and standing up against violence and war and yet it is also a very important part of trying to be authentically disciples of Jesus. Ordinary people have to stand up and be prophets even having to resist and act against or speak out against the leadership of our church. And here I'm speaking about our local church, the Archdiocese of Detroit. This past week in the Detroit Free Press was a column written by a former teacher from Holy Redeemer High School. She is a former teacher only because the school has been closed and her job is gone. This is Kim Redigan. Here's part of what she says:
These are his words:
… "The demographics and economics kept heading in the wrong direction' for the schools being closed. It's true. While more than 90% of our students went on to colleges and universities in a city with a high school drop out rate that hovers near 60%, the demographics and the money did head in the wrong direction. But McGrath's explanation raises the question: In which direction would Jesus walk?
Now, here's an ordinary lay woman speaking out against the Cardinal Archbishop of Detroit. Who's the prophet? Is she a prophet perhaps or is the archbishop the prophet? Which way would Jesus be going do you think? Towards those affluent, rich schools in the suburbs or towards the poor schools in the city of Detroit and the near suburbs? I don't think it takes a lot of insight into the gospel to recognize that Jesus reaches out, first of all, to the poor, to those who are in greater need. "Blessed are the poor, theirs is the reign of God."
I think Kim Redigan is truly a prophet in our midst. In fact those words of Ned McGrath I find so typical in a way. "The demographics," he says, "and the economics" are going in the other direction. Well, you know what does "demographics" mean? He's talking about people. But he calls them demographics. You make it an abstraction and then you don't have to think about the people that you're hurting, that you're bringing suffering and pain to. Demographics. That is a nice word. It's sort of like "collateral damage," which our military uses all the time in war. You don't have to think about the people. Can you imagine Jesus, who tells us in today's Gospel that you're worth more than many sparrows and that not one hair of your head is not numbered. That God that knows us so uniquely and individually, he would talk about us as "demographic"? No, we're persons each of us unique and special and loved by God and especially those who are poor and needy among us. And Jesus surely would be walking toward the poor.
Those are just two examples of what it might mean to be a prophet. As we reflect on these examples and on the word of God today where Jesus is sending us out to be witnesses, to proclaim his good news, we have to think about whether we're ready to accept that call with all that it might cost us. Perhaps, some of us, if we would at least listen to the prophet, we would then get the courage to become prophets and our church could be changed. We would be proclaiming the way of Jesus, the way of non-violence, and act of love, the way that rejects hatred and violence and killing.
If we listen to the prophets and pray for the grace to be Jesus' prophets then the work of Jesus will move forward quickly. Our world would be transformed into the reign of God. Pray today that we can have the grace to be the prophets Jesus calls us to be and to listen to the prophets in our midst.
In the name of the father and of the son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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