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Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese
of Detroit, Michigan *
Rejoice greatly, daughter of Zion! Shout, daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your king comes to you! He is righteous, and having salvation;
lowly, and riding on a donkey, even on a colt, the foal of a donkey. He
will cut off the chariot from Ephraim, and the horse from Jerusalem; and
the battle bow will be cut off; and he will speak peace to the nations:
and his dominion will be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends
of the earth.
Romans 8:9, 11-13
Brother and sisters, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit,
if it is so that the Spirit of God dwells in you. But whoever does not
have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. If the Spirit of
the one who raised up Jesus from the dead dwells in you, the one who raised
up Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies
through his Spirit who dwells in you. So then, brothers and sisters, we
are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh. For if you live
after the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the
deeds of the body, you will live.
At that time, Jesus answered, "I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you hid these things from the wise and understanding, and revealed them to infants. Yes, Father, for so it was well-pleasing in your sight. All things have been delivered to me by my Father. No one knows the Son, except the Father; neither does anyone know the Father, except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son desires to reveal him.
"Come to me, all you who labor and are heavily burdened, and I will
give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle
and lowly in heart; and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke
is easy, and my burden is light."
* 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
important when we reflect upon the sacred scriptures to listen to the various
passages out of the context of the people to whom they were first proclaimed
or written. And if we’re going to understand today’s first lesson
and the gospel lesson, especially, we have to try to put ourselves into
the historical setting where these words were first proclaimed.
As I mentioned in the introduction to the first reading, the chosen people had been carried off into exile. They had experienced extreme violence. Many, many were killed and tortured, and finally they had returned to Judah, their home, and were trying to re-establish themselves as a people. They were still experiencing great suffering, depravation, and all the results of war. Yet, the prophet Zechariah proclaimed to them the message of extraordinary joy, “Rejoice, rejoice greatly daughter of Zion; shout for joy daughter of Jerusalem.” He called for them to rejoice at this terrible time. Why? Because he promised to them a new ruler: “One is coming who is just and victorious.”
But what is also important about this is that this ideal ruler would be one who is humble – he would be one who rides into his city on a donkey.
Immediately, you get the picture of Jesus, so many centuries later, carefully preparing to enter into the city of Jerusalem riding on a donkey. Jesus was proclaiming the same message about himself on that occasion that Zechariah was proclaiming to the chosen people so many centuries before; that this new ruler, this ideal ruler would be one who would reject war. No more chariots in Ephraim, no more horses in Jerusalem. It is important to understand that the chariots and the horses were used for battle. A humble, non-violent king would be one who rejected horses and chariots. He would ride on a donkey, the same conveyance that any poor person might have used.
Because this new king is going to do away with war -- the warriors bow shall be broken; when he dictates peace to the nations, he will reign from sea to sea, from the river to the ends of the earth -- the people of Judah, at the time they heard the message, could only long for the moment when that new ruler would come. They had this idealized picture of one who had come to save them and help them never to have to experience the horrible, terrible violence of war again.
But those who lived at the time when Matthew’s gospel was put together had experienced this new ruler. They, too, were living in a time when there was a lot of violence. They were under the rule of the Roman Empire. At the time the gospel was finally put together, written down, the church was under persecution and experiencing violence. But they had the example of Jesus who was the fulfillment of the prophecy of Zechariah; the one who had come and shown them how to reject violence, how to reject war, how to respond when violence is inflicted upon them.
When we hear what Jesus says in today’s gospel, “Come to me all of you who are heavily burdened and I will give you rest,” we might think at first that Jesus is saying, “Well, we’ll just run away from the world, escape. That will be the answer.” But it isn’t what he means. He says, “Take my burden upon you; my yoke.”
It’s important to understand that Jesus was speaking about a burden that was different from the burdens that had been imposed upon the people: “My burden, not the burden that you have experienced in the past.” And the people at the time when the gospel was written would fully understand this.
In fact, in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus points out the burden that he is rejecting. He is talking about the Pharisees and the doctors of the law: “They prepare heavy burdens that are very difficult to carry and lay them on the shoulders of the people. But they do not even raise a finger to move them. They do everything in order to be seen by people, but they forget what is most fundamental in the law: justice, mercy and faith. These you must practice without neglecting the others.”
At the time of Jesus, people were given this heavy burden to carry, that is, the written law that had been developed, not what God had revealed on Mt Sinai, but rather what had been developed down through the centuries -- hundreds of very tiny proscriptions of the law that became a heavy burden. As Jesus says, “The teachers of the law didn’t bother to carry themselves, but imposed on the people.”
Jesus was saying, “My burden is different.” What is the burden that Jesus asks us to take upon ourselves? It’s one law, the law of love. And it’s spelled out for us in the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus pleads with his followers. “Always be quick to forgive and to reconcile. Don’t let anger build up in your heart; no resentment, no vengeance, no violence. Love one another, not just those who love you. Love your enemy.” Jesus tells us, “This is my burden that I offer to you, but it is a burden that is light, a burden that can bring joy, and a burden that can really and truly bring peace, the only way that we will find peace in the world.”
Like the people in Zechariah’s time or the people of the time when the gospel was written, we too live in a period of terrible violence. But it’s different for us. We have the example of Jesus. We have the example of that early Christian community who understood what Jesus said and who were following it and transforming the Roman empire, causing people to want to follow Jesus because these Christians love one another and love even their enemies. They return evil for good.
“My burden is easy and light,” Jesus says. And it is the way to peace promised by Zechariah so long ago.
But somehow we still haven’t learned or haven’t accepted what Jesus said. We haven’t accepted his invitation. “Accept my burden. Take it upon you the way I show you to live.” Instead, we still follow the ways of war and violence.
And as I tried to point out in the bulletin today, we are waging a war of extreme violence that brings terrible suffering to the people of Afghanistan. I can’t help, as I reflect on today’s scriptures, thinking about my experience over there just two weeks ago. I tried to spell out some of it in today’s bulletin -- thousands of people have been killed by our bombs. This is a country that is primitive. They have barely entered into the modern era.
There’s a story of a woman that will give you an idea of how extraordinary the poverty is and how primitive the situation of the people is. There’s only one doctor for 50,000 people and these doctors are not spread evenly throughout the country. This woman needed medical care and she was in a refugee camp. The head of the Islamic Relief Services was telling us about this. He showed us on a map how far she had to travel from that camp to another place to get medical care. He said it would take him 14 hours in his four-wheel drive vehicle, but that the only transportation this woman had was to ride on a donkey. It would take her days and nights of travel to try to get medical care. That’s how poor this country is.
Imagine a city, the capital city of Kabul, where we were told by government officials that 35 thousand to 40 thousand children were on the streets begging. I’ve never seen so many kids so desperately begging. And they are the main breadwinners for their families. The only income these families have is what the children can beg on the streets. It’s a country that is extremely primitive and poor and yet we have bombed it so often.
I saw so many youngsters and adults, too, who have their limbs blown off. And that’s a continuing danger. 300 people a month are casualties because of the landmines that have been left behind. Because of the bomblets that come out of huge cluster bombs that we explode, like the bombing that happened last week. It probably was a cluster bomb that hit those two villages and 200 tiny bomblets fly out of that bomb in every direction and as they explode and spew forth shrapnel that cut a person in half or tear off a limb. But what’s even worse is that some of those bomblets are designed to not explode when the bomb hits. Out of the 200 bomblets in every bomb, 10 to 15 percent do not explode. They are left on the ground. And what’s even more cruel is that these bomblets are painted a bright yellow, the same color as the food packets that had been dropped.
I met a youngster who, with his cousin, was out playing. He picked up one of these bomblets, thinking that it was a packet of biscuits. But then it started to smoke, so he threw it and it exploded. His cousin had both legs and one arm torn very badly. The doctors there couldn’t do much to save him. They were going to amputate both legs and his arm, but his father protested vehemently. And finally there was a German NGO in the hospital who heard about it. And this is a very beautiful thing. The German nation is providing health care for some of these people. So this little child, 8 years old, was flown to Germany and he was given treatment that enabled them to save his limbs although his one leg is still badly wounded. But at least he’s alive and able to walk about.
But there are 300 people a month who are becoming victims of the bomblets and landmines that have been left behind. And what does it do? Is it bringing peace? No, it’s just going to bring more violence.
I’ve put it in the bulletin today because I think it’s so important for us to realize this. Our own government has said: Classified investigations of the Al Queda threat now underway at the FBI and CIA have concluded that the war in Afghanistan failed to diminish the threat to the USA. Instead, the war might have complicated counter-terrorism efforts by dispersing potential attackers across a wider geographic area. Moreover, as Al Queda followers have fled Afghanistan, the old bin Laden hierarchy has been succeeded by tactical operatives with makeshift alliances with military groups in countries like Pakistan, Egypt and Algeria. What we are seeing now is a radical, international jihad that will be a potent force for many years to come.
So far, it seems our nation can only say: Well, we now have to do violence where they appear and we will be killing more and more innocent people.
Isn’t it time that we really heeded what Jesus says? He is that ideal ruler that Zechariah promised. He shows us how to abolish war, how root violence out of our world, and how to bring his peace. But we have to listen. We have to hear his invitation today: Come to me all of you who are burdened and heavily laden. And we can think of ourselves as being burdened with a spirit of hatred, a spirit of vengeance, a spirit of violence.
Come to Jesus, come to me. He says, “Take my yoke. Take my burden. It’s really light and it really can bring you peace.”
Will we accept the invitation of Jesus, each of us individually? That’s a question that only you and I can answer for ourselves. But if we do accept what Jesus offers to us, our own hearts can be transformed and we will experience a deep peace within ourselves. And, perhaps, out of that inner peace, we know we will work with ever greater energy to try to transform our world, lead our nation away from the ways of war and violence into the ways of peace, the ways of Jesus.
Hear deeply in your heart: Come to me, all of you who are heavily burdened, and I will give you rest and peace.
In the name of the Father
and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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