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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
Amaziah, priest of Bethel, said to Amos, "Off with you, visionary, flee to the land of Judah! There earn your bread by prophesying, but never again prophesy in Bethel; for it is the king's sanctuary and a royal temple." Amos answered Amaziah, "I was no prophet, nor have I belonged to a company of prophets; I was a shepherd and a dresser of sycamores. The LORD took me from following the flock, and said to me, Go, prophesy to my people Israel."
Eph 1:3-14 or 1:3-10
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens, as he chose us in him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and without blemish before him. In love he destined us for adoption to himself through Jesus Christ, in accord with the favor of his will, for the praise of the glory of God's grace that he granted us in the beloved.
In him we have redemption by his blood, the forgiveness of transgressions, in accord with the riches of his grace that he lavished upon us. In all wisdom and insight, he has made known to us the mystery of his will in accord with his favor that he set forth in him as a plan for the fullness of times, to sum up all things in Christ, in heaven and on earth.
Jesus summoned the Twelve and began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over unclean spirits. He instructed them to take nothing for the journey but a walking stick -— no food, no sack, no money in their belts. They were, however, to wear sandals but not a second tunic. He said to them, "Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave. Whatever place does not welcome you or listen to you, leave there and shake the dust off your feet in testimony against them." So they went off and preached repentance. The Twelve drove out many demons, and they anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.
* 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.
Last Sunday's readings led us to reflect on the prophetic role of Jesus -- how he had come to be a prophet in the line of those prophets we read about in the Old Testament, one who speaks on behalf of God. Remember from last Sunday's gospel how Jesus was rejected, even in his own hometown among his own family and those he had grown up with, he was rejected. Or in Luke's Gospel when Jesus is speaking in the synagogue, the people who heard him wanted to take him to the brow of a hill and throw him off to kill him. These stories remind us that sometimes the role of the prophet is not one that is welcome within our Church and within our world.
Last Sunday, too, in the first lesson, the prophet Ezekiel reminded us that God sends prophets to speak to us and many times they are not listened to. But God told Ezekiel, "That's OK. You still must proclaim the word that I have given to you, even if they don't listen. At least," God said, "the word has been proclaimed in their midst and that will always be a judgment against them."
Today, as we continue reading our lessons from the prophets and from the Gospel, we learn more about prophecy within the church. I think today's lessons, especially the gospel, will be challenging to all of us, because we discover as we listen to the lessons today that the whole church is to be a prophetic church. Jesus sent all the disciples out. Every one of them was sent, two by two, into the various villages to proclaim the message that Jesus had come to proclaim, the Good News and the call for people to change their lives. The whole church from the beginning was to be a prophetic church.
Of course, that's still true. We are the community of the disciples of Jesus, and so we are to be prophetic; we are to speak on behalf of God regardless of the consequences. What is highlighted, today, I think is the fact that every one of us is called to be a prophet. If we are followers of Jesus, we are called to speak on his behalf.
You might say, "I am just an ordinary person. How can I be a prophet?" Well, in the first lesson today, we learn about Amos. Amos goes before Amaziah, who is the priest in the temple of the king, the one who is supposedly the king's spiritual guide. Amaziah rejects Amos. Amaziah says to Amos: "Off with you. Go back to the land of Judah. Earn your bread there by prophesying, but never again prophesy at Bethel, which is a king's sanctuary and a national shrine."
Amos replies to Amaziah: "I am not a prophet" -- by which he meant he was not one of the company of prophets, not an official prophet -- "I am simply a shepherd of sheep, a dresser of sycamore trees. But God took me from shepherding the flock and said to me, go and tell my people Israel about me." God told this ordinary shepherd, quite unexpectedly from Amos' point of view: "You must prophesy. You must speak on my behalf."
God is saying the same thing to every one of us. None of us can say, "Oh, no! I am just ordinary. I don't have this skill. I am not old enough. I am not … whatever." Every one of us, if we follow Jesus, is called to share in the prophetic ministry of Jesus.
I think it is important, too, to notice how we prophesize. If we speak on behalf of God, and do this in awareness of our own failings and sinfulness, we never go as a prophet who tries to lord it over other people, but we go out of our weaknesses. We must go even to the king's shrine. That is, we must speak even to the secular powers at times, which is why our church must speak against our own government at times. This is what Amos is showing us and why some of us individually have to speak out if our own king, if you will, our government is leading us on a path that is evil. We must speak up.
We must speak up even to the church. Amos had to speak to the priest at Bethel, the priest who was really in the pay of the king, and to challenge him to be faithful to God and not to the king. Sometimes as we prophesy we must prophesy to our own church, the institution that we are part of.
The Gospel lesson today tells us something about our style of prophecy, and this is very important. It isn't just what we say. The words people say are cheap, and they come easily sometimes. We prophesy most of all by how we live. That is why when speaking to the disciples he sent out to proclaim God's word, to speak on behalf of God, Jesus said: "You must go without any extra money" -- no bread, no extra money. In Matthew's Gospel, they are told to go even without sandals, without a staff. They had to go with complete dependence on God, not trusting in material power or wealth at all.
One commentator on this gospel lesson said: "If people were to travel in 1st century Palestine in the rocky places and through the mountains and hills without a staff for protection, without sandals, without any extra provisions, they would be very extraordinary; they would be noticed, and that's exactly what Jesus wanted. He wanted his disciples, by their lives, to be noticed.
Jesus was telling them, "Don't depend upon violence. You don't have a staff so you cannot wield that against others. Don't depend upon your material goods." In other words, try to live a life that manifests non-violence, vulnerability; openly share your needs with others and live in a kind of interactive hospitality. Stay in whatever house welcomes you. Share with one another. That's how you will continue to live, by sharing with each other.
This lifestyle was very important. That's how they would prophesy. They would proclaim their dependence on God, their trust in God, not in material things. They would proclaim by their lives their love for others, their willingness to accept suffering rather than inflict it, to be killed rather than to kill and so on. Their whole life was to be the message.
When we reflect on how today's readings might apply in our lives, we find many ways in which we could begin to discern how one can be a prophet, one in the community of the disciples of Jesus who proclaims God's word.
We might be called to be a prophet in our own Church. I think, for example, of the Catholic Worker community in Los Angeles. These are people who live very simply, depending upon the hospitality, the caring of others, sharing everything they have, living a life of gospel simplicity. At one point, very recently, their lifestyle and their words challenged the official church in Los Angeles, which was spending $200 million on a new building when there are desperately poor people throughout the whole diocese, and the diocese had to cut its own services to the poor. The people of the Catholic Worker spoke up to their church.
We also have Voices of the Faithful and Call to Action. These are groups of people within our church who are speaking to our church. If our church, the hierarchy and all of us can listen, very often we will hear God's word being spoken, calling us to change. We can be part of all that: people who speak to our church.
Or we can be people who speak to the powers of our world by challenging some of the policies of our government. I mentioned last week the three Dominican sisters, Carol Gilbert, Ardeth Platte, and Jackie Hudson, who are to be sentenced on July 25th because they symbolically tried to destroy weapons of mass destruction based in this country ready to be used against innocent people in other parts of the world. They will spend years in jail because they have spoken against our government.
Another way to look at this is our lifestyle and how we try to share and live in interactive hospitality as Jesus suggested for his first disciples. Now today, we are not an agrarian people. We are not walking through the countryside over rocky roads and so on. Our lifestyle is different, of course. Yet the elements that Jesus was speaking about -- simplicity, dependence upon others, sharing -- could still be a very important part of our lives and could be how we speak God's word, how we prophesy.
I came across an example of this in something I read this past week. It was an article about how we in the industrialized developed nations grow our food. We grow it in a very wasteful way. This article pointed out that in our nine-planet solar system, only our planet through evolution has developed topsoil through which food can grow. It took 3 billion years for the topsoil on our planet to develop to the point where we could grow food.
The high-tech manner in which we choose to grow food today is wasteful. We use up 25 billion tons of topsoil every year. We are slowly destroying our planet. We could find ways to grow our food that would not be wasteful, but we choose not to. The way we use energy on this planet, we in the industrialized nations especially, is wasteful and exorbitant. We could find ways not to consume the good things of this earth in destructive ways, but we choose not.
We can make changes to our lifestyle -- if we would. We could be more like those first disciples living simply with greater dependence upon God. We can choose to live in ways that would build up our planet, build up our world, so that it will continue to be a place where every person on earth can benefit from the good things God has given.
So by what we say, by how we act, by how we live, these are the ways we can proclaim God's word to our church, to ourselves, to our nation and to our government. We can be prophets.
This last week I received a letter from a friend of mine who, I think, is an extraordinary prophet and perhaps one who can challenge us to live more prophetically. She wrote:
My dear family and friends,
Now this is a person who anyone would say is ordinary: a homemaker, a wife and a mother. Yet, she is able to say, "I must proclaim God's word even in the midst of violence -- go where there is oppression and injustice and be the word of God there."
We are not all called to do the exact same things, but I hope as we reflect on today's lessons each of us will recognize that as a member of the community of the disciples of Jesus, I am called to be a prophet, to speak for God in word and -- most of all -- in the way I live that word of God.
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