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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
given at Saint Leo Church, Detroit, MI. Each homily is transcribed
from a tape recording of the actual delivery and made available to you
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From time to time, Bishop Gumbleton is traveling and unable to provide
us with the homily for the week.
NOTE: The homilies are available here five days after they are given, always on Friday. By signing up for our weekly e-mail, you will be notifed as soon as each is available. (See the upper right corner of this screen.)
We should begin by reflection on our first lesson today, which tells of a very significant development for the chosen people. As I have mentioned, "Deuteronomy" means second law. The Book of Deuteronomy was put together hundreds of years after Moses had died, but it was written as though these were the words of Moses, the great lawgiver for the chosen people. He was the one who had gone up Mt. Sinai, experienced God in a very powerful way, and then brought the commandments back. The people tried to live according to those commandments, which bound them together as God's people. God was their God and they were God's people. And the law helped to cement that relationship.
But down over the years the law became somewhat formalistic. Laws like Moses', a list of things -- "Do this ... Don't to that ... Do this ... Don't do that ..." can be something that you try to conform yourself to. It's out there some where. It is a code by which you try to live. You conform yourself to these rules. But if you listen to today's passage from Deuteronomy you find people had become caught up in trying to maintain a commitment to the letter of the law. They had even extrapolated Moses' 10 laws to 613 specific laws. "If you obey these laws then you are OK. You'll be favored by God."
But Moses, or rather the people who put this book together, are saying, "There's more to it than that. The law isn't something out there. It isn't a list of things you try to conform yourself to. No, you shall turn to God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and my word is very near to you. It is already in your mouth and in your heart so that you can put it into practice." This emphasizes that there is more to the law than just a list of rules. The law is based on our relationship with God. It isn't something out there. It is within our hearts. God speaks to us within the depths of our hearts -- if we are ready to listen. The point of the law is not to try to conform to a list of rules, but to enter into a relationship with God. We are God's people, and God is our God. Listening to God speak within our hearts, we can discover where God is leading us, and then we can try to follow.
You might think, "Well, that's pretty easy. I can listen to my heart and decide I don't have to do this or that." You could be letting yourself off easy and not challenging yourself. But remember what you are listening to: the way of Jesus. Paul described this in his letter to the church of Philippi; he urged the people: "Have this mind in you which was in Christ Jesus." When we try to listen to God in our hearts, try to listen to God's law in our hearts, we are trying to have within us the mind of Jesus. Paul goes on to say, "Have this mind in you which was in Christ Jesus, who though he was God did not think his divinity something to be clung to, but emptied himself. Totally emptied himself. Became human. Gave himself over to death even the death of the cross, all in order to pour forth love upon us."
So if we have the mind of Christ Jesus within us, it will lead us to be generous, to be loving, to be compassionate, to give of ourselves totally and to respond where ever God needs us.
In today's Gospel lesson, do you see what the man was asking of Jesus? "What must I do to be saved?" He was looking for a set of rules. "Just tell me to do this or that, and then I can be saved." But Jesus did not fall for that. He asked the man: "What does it say in the law? You want to follow the law, what does it say?" Well, and to give the person credit, he knew what it said: "Love the Lord, your God, with your whole heart, your whole mind, your whole self -- your whole self -- and then love your neighbor as your self." Jesus said, "That's great. That is all you have to do and you will have everlasting life." But the man wasn't satisfied. He wanted some rules. "OK, then," he said, "tell me, who is my neighbor? Then I'll know what I have to do."
Jesus replies, "No, that's not it at all." Then he tells the story: A man is beat up and left for dead. A priest goes by and ignores what's right in front of him. He's not listening to God. What is he listening to? The rule! As a priest he knew that if he touched a corpse, and this person looked like he was dead, then he would be "unclean" and he couldn't celebrate in the temple. He couldn't function as a priest. So he was ready to obey the rule instead of reaching out. And the same thing with the Levite. A Levite was a minister in the temple, and he didn't want to become "unclean" either, he was following the rule.
What happened next was extraordinary, though we probably miss the full impact of it. You have to remember that the Samaritans were despised. They were apostates. The Jewish people looked down upon them. Jesus deliberately chooses someone who was not thought of as faithful to the rules, to the Law, as the person who was moved with compassion. He's listening to God within himself. What would God want? The word that Luke uses, "compassion," is a very significant word. It is not used many times in the Gospels. One time it is used is when Jesus himself confronted the widow from Nain whose only son was being buried. A tragic situation and Luke said "Jesus was moved with compassion." Grieving for this person, his heart overflowed with love and concern. That is the same word that Luke uses for the Samaritan. He was overflowing with compassion. He had been listening in his heart to what God asked of him. We could even put the words of Paul onto this person; "Have this mind in you which was in Christ Jesus." That is what he had.
As we listen to this parable, remember that God is asking us to deepen our relationship with God. If we deepen our relationship with God, and we begin to listen to God speaking to us in our hearts, to God leading us, to God shaping us according to the way of Jesus, then we will be more like the Samaritan and less like those who are simply following the rules. The rules by themselves can be deadly and not life giving.
Did you notice that Jesus did not define "neighbor"? He did not set up a list of rules saying, "This is your neighbor. This is not your neighbor." He simply challenges us: How are you going to be a neighbor to someone, to anyone, to everyone who is in need? Don't worry about who your neighbor is. Focus on how you will be a neighbor, reaching out, filled with compassion.
I can think of a number of ways in which many of us within this community are already being neighbors, but maybe more of us have to do it or at least support it and be part of it. For example, we have our evangelization team going out every Monday into our neighborhood, knocking on doors, trying to be neighbor to all of those around us, many of whom are in great need. Maybe more of us could be part of that, reaching out, really being neighbor, right here. Or every day we serve meals downstairs. More of us could come and be neighbor to those people from around here who are homeless, who are hungry, who need someone to be neighbor to them.
We can look beyond our immediate neighborhood. In September a delegation from our parish will go to Haiti to visit our parish twin and dedicate a new school. More of us could support our Haiti twinning program and be neighbor to those people in the poorest country in our hemisphere.
Or as you try to listen to God speaking within your heart, you'll discover in your own home someone you have become somewhat alienated from. Perhaps you need to reach out with greater love, compassion and understanding, and with a spirit of forgiveness -- to be a neighbor in this Gospel sense -- to someone very close to you.
I could go on, but you could go on too. How, where, when and to whom can I be, must I be, neighbor? When our hearts fill with the compassion of Jesus, we can reach out in love where ever there is anyone in need.
"Have this mind in you which was in Christ Jesus. Though he was God, he did not think his divinity something to be clung to but emptied himself." If we listen to God speaking within our hearts, not looking for rules to follow but, simply, to be more deeply connected with God and listen, we'll be willing and able to follow to where Jesus leads us and empty ourselves in being neighbor where ever there is someone in need.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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