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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
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Thomas J. Gumbleton
Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese
Ezekiel 2: 2-5
As the Lord spoke to me, the spirit entered into me and set me on my feet, and I heard the one who was speaking say to me: Son of man, I am sending you to the Israelites, rebels who have rebelled against me; they and their ancestors have revolted against me to this very day. Hard of face and obstinate of heart are they to whom I am sending you. But you shall say to them: Thus says the Lord God! And whether they heed or resist—for they are a rebellious house -- they shall know that a prophet has been among them.
2 Corinthians 12: 7-10
Brothers and sisters:
That I, Paul, might not become too elated,
because of the abundance of the revelations,
a thorn in the flesh was given to me, an angel of Satan,
to beat me, to keep me from being too elated.
Three times I begged the Lord about this, that it might leave me,
but he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you,
for power is made perfect in weakness."
I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses,
in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me.
Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults,
hardships, persecutions, and constraints,
for the sake of Christ;
for when I am weak, then I am strong.
Jesus departed from there and came to his native place, accompanied by his disciples.
When the sabbath came he began to teach in the synagogue,
and many who heard him were astonished.
They said, "Where did this man get all this?
What kind of wisdom has been given him?
What mighty deeds are wrought by his hands!
Is he not the carpenter, the son of Mary,
and the brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon?
And are not his sisters here with us?"
And they took offense at him.
Jesus said to them,
"A prophet is not without honor except in his native place
and among his own kin and in his own house."
So he was not able to perform any mighty deed there,
apart from curing a few sick people by laying his hands on them.
He was amazed at their lack of faith.
* 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
** The Web link to Pax Christi is provided as a service to our readers.
I think to get the full impact of what happens in today's gospel, which describes when Jesus going back to his home town, it would help if we remember last Sunday's gospel from the 16th chapter of Matthew. Last Sunday Jesus had challenged the disciples, "Who do you say that I am?" and Peter had proclaimed with power and clarity, "You are the Christ, the son of the living God."
In today's gospel, Jesus is rejected. The son of the living God is rejected. To help us understand how this contradiction that seems so blatant could happen, we should remember that passage from last Sunday in Matthew was a post resurrection experience. Even though Matthew inserted it into the life of Jesus on earth, it really had happened after his resurrection when the disciples had a much clearer idea -- at least, most of them were getting a clearer idea -- of who Jesus really was.
In today's passage from Mark's Gospel (and the same thing happens earlier in Matthew's Gospel and in Luke's Gospel), the disciples are struggling trying to discover who Jesus is. What happens in today's gospel, I'm sure, was much more common in the life of Jesus than people saying to him, "You are the Christ, the son of the living God."
Jesus being rejected happened over and over again. In fact, it happened just a few verses before today's passage. The family of Jesus had come and they were going to take him away, because they thought he was out of his mind. They thought he had gone insane. They couldn't understand him.
In Luke's Gospel, when he preaches in the synagogue at the very beginning of his public life, at first they hailed his teaching, but then in a few moments they are ready to take him out of that synagogue, haul him to the top of the hill and throw him off, kill him. That was what was happening most of the time with Jesus. People were refusing to listen to him, refusing to follow him.
To understand why, perhaps we need to remind ourselves of the first lesson today about Ezekiel, one of the major prophets of the Old Testament. His life was typical of every prophet. He was sent by God to speak on behalf of God. A prophet is not some one who predicts the future. A prophet is someone who speaks on behalf of God or one who speaks for those who have no voice, for the poor and the oppressed. When the prophets were sent to preach on behalf of God, to proclaim God's word, over and over again they were rejected. They were denounced and sometimes killed, because people do not want to hear God's word.
That is amazing, isn't it? People would say no to God's word. It happened over and over again. It happened to Jesus.
Do you suppose it is still happening? Are we refusing to hear God's word? Are there prophets in our midst? Are we refusing to hear Jesus who spoke prophetically and who acted prophetically to teach us the way of God?
Jesus did teach a hard message, didn't he? He asked us not to put our trust in wealth, for example; to be poor, to let go of those things we have in such excess in this world. Printed on our money is "In God we trust." But is it really true? Don't we trust much more in our money than we do in God?
Jesus has spoken prophetic words to us. Sometimes his actions were prophetic. The time he went into the temple and knocked over the tables and threw out the moneychangers, he was acting for justice. That time, they really got angry with him, and shortly after that they put him to death, because he was trying to make justice happen.
Over and over again throughout his life, Jesus acted prophetically. Look at the way he treated people who were called public sinners; a tax collector named Levi, he calls him to be a disciple. Or the time he is visiting the home of Simon the Pharisee, one of the religious leaders, and the woman of the streets comes in and washes his feet with her tears. Simon said, "If he knew who that was, he wouldn't let her do that!" But Jesus accepted sinners, welcomed them.
He was teaching us God's way. He was being a prophet. As we recall this ministry of Jesus, his prophetic ministry, it is important for us to ask ourselves how seriously we take the message of Jesus, the radical teaching of Jesus -- not to trust in wealth, not to trust in violence and not to trust in human power. The word of Jesus is still being proclaimed among us. As we listen deeply to God's Word, it is present; the very same message of Jesus comes to us this morning.
But also there are those who are prophets in our midst, like Ezekiel who was sent by God, or Isaiah, or Jeremiah.
What is the greatest danger we face in the world today? What is the greatest sin, almost indescribable that we could commit; in fact, we as a nation are preparing to commit. It is the use of nuclear weapons. We are developing new nuclear weapons that will be more "useable" and we are going to have them part of our arsenal.
There are those, though, who have said, "This is wrong!" In fact, our Church in the Second Vatican Council very powerfully denounced such weapons as an abomination against God and against all of humankind. That was back in 1965, and we have continued to develop, build and plan to use these weapons of mass destruction.
Very few of us stand up and say no; but some do, and I thought I might bring to your attention and ask your prayers for three people who will be sentenced later this month. Three sisters of St. Dominic of Grand Rapids, Mich.*, acted prophetically. They went to a nuclear base and symbolically disarmed a weapon, denouncing these weapons, which are abominations. They have been tried and convicted of endangering our country. They were convicted of threatening the security of the United States. On July 25, they will be sentenced to years in jail.
Should we be listening to them as prophets speaking to us through their actions, through their willingness to be jailed to dramatize the evil that we are engaged in as a nation?
This may seem a strange lesson for us as we celebrate this weekend, our great holiday, July Fourth, the birthday of our nation, our independence and our freedom. Some people would say it is very unpatriotic to speak against what our government is doing. But I am convinced and I hope that all of us, through prayer, might come to realize that the greatest way we can show love for our country would be not to just wave the flag and explode fireworks at night. The greatest way to show love for our country would be to join in the prophetic denunciation of what our country is doing wrong and work to end our dependence on weapons of mass destruction.
We need to learn what St. Paul proclaimed so clearly about his own experience when he discovered how weak he was, when he discovered how powerless he was. And knew that he was powerless. He said: I am blessed because when I am powerless, when I am weak, then I am most powerful. Why? Because when we let go of our human power, God's power can work through us; God's power can change us. It can enable us to be prophets within our own country and within our own world.
The prophetic ministry of Jesus was probably the most important part of his whole ministry. So today we pray about that; we reflect on Jesus the prophet. We try to listen to him, and that we, too, try to be prophets for our times and for our world.
In the name of the father and of the son and have the Holy Spirit. Amen.
*Editor's Note: Bishop Gumbleton is referring to Dominican sisters Ardeth Platte, Carol Gilbert and Jackie Hudson who cut a chain link fence and entered a missile silo in northern Colorado on Sunday, Oct. 6, 2002.
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