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The Peace Pulpit
Homilies by Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton

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By 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 as an NCR Web site exclusive.  You may register for a weekly e-mail reminder that will be sent to you when each new homily is posted.  From time to time, Bishop Gumbleton is traveling and unable to provide us with the homily for the week.
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Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
August 4, 2002

Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese
of Detroit, Michigan *

This week's readings **

Isaiah 55:1-3

Thus says the Lord, everyone who is thirsty, come to the waters, and you who have no money; come, buy, and eat without cost; yes, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend money for that which is not bread and your labor for that which doesn't satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and you shall eat well, and let your soul delight itself in rich fare.  Turn your ear, and come to me; hear and your soul shall live.  I will make an everlasting covenant with you, the benefits assured to David.

Romans 8:35, 37-39

Brothers and sisters, who shall separate us from the love of Christ?  Could oppression, or anguish, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?  No, in all these things, we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Matthew 14:13-21

Now when Jesus heard of the death of John the Baptist, he withdrew from there in a boat, to a deserted place apart. When the multitudes heard it, they followed him on foot from the cities.  Jesus went out, and he saw a great multitude.  He had compassion on them, and healed their sick.  When evening had come, his disciples came to him, saying, "This place is deserted, and the hour is already late.  Send the multitudes away, that they may go into the villages, and buy themselves food."  But Jesus said to them, "They don't need to go away. You give them something to eat."  They told him, "We only have here five loaves and two fish."  He said, "Bring them here to me."  He commanded the multitudes to sit down on the grass; and he took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, he blessed, broke and gave the loaves to the disciples, and the disciples gave to the multitudes. They all ate, and were filled. They took up twelve baskets full of that which remained left over from the broken pieces.  Those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

* 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.

He 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 Bishops (USCC).


I recognize how warm it is.  Yet, it’s still important for us to take a few moments to reflect on today’s scripture lessons, to make them our own and really let this word of God enter into our heart and change us. 

     As I reflected on these lessons this week, the first thing that came to my mind is something that we do every so often here at Saint Leo’s and I ask you to do it again today. 

[Editor’s note:  Bishop Gumbleton leads the congregation by saying to them: “God is good.”  The congregation responds back with: “All the time.”  This is repeated three times.  Following this, Bishop Gumbleton continues his homily.] 

     Today, we really should realize this, that all three of the lessons are telling us that God is good; God is good, all the time.  We’re so blessed.  If only we let ourselves realize this that God is good because God is love.

     In the first lesson today, Isaiah was proclaiming a message to people who were in exile because they had been unfaithful to God.  They had not listened to God’s word in the past and, because they had failed to heed God, they found themselves overwhelmed by their enemies.  They had not been faithful to God.  They were in exile and, yet, now Isaiah is telling them: “God is bringing you back and your exile will be over.” And then Isaiah invites them, in those words that we heard in the first lesson today, reminding them: “You haven’t earned any of this and you don’t have to earn it. Come all you who are thirsty, come to the water. You have no money, come anyway.  Yes, without money and at no cost….”

     God is promising them what they need for their human life -- but even beyond that, gifts that only God can give; gifts of genuine life forever.  Come and receive these gifts.  You don’t have to pay.  God’s love is waiting, always waiting to be gracious to us.

     We always have a hard time, actually, believing that.  We’re so used to the idea that you don’t get things for nothing. You need to work.  You need to earn what you get.  There’s no free lunch, we say.  So sometimes we’re really harsh on the poor and we say, “Well, if they only worked harder, they could get more.”  And we’re so caught up in that idea that you don’t get anything unless you earn it.  You have to deserve it.  We talk about the so called deserving poor and ignore them.  But that’s not God.  That’s not the way God’s love works.

     In fact, if you go just a little bit further in that passage of Isaiah, you have God saying through Isaiah: “Seek God, while God may be found.  Call to God, God is near.  Let the wicked abandon their way and let them forsake their thoughts.  Turn to God for God will have mercy.  For our God is generous and forgiving.”  And then how God is described by Isaiah: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, my ways are not your ways,” says God. “For as the heavens are above the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” 

     We really have to break out of our own kind of closed attitude about God’s love.  It isn’t like we act so often where we want to return something for someone who has given us something or vise versa.  We expect to be given something when we give.  We expect to earn what we get.  God says, “No, it’s not like that at all.  I love you always and loved you first.”

     And isn’t that what Jesus is showing us in the gospel? 

     Now here he was, overwhelmed with sorrow and grief.  And remember Jesus really did feel just like we feel when someone very close to us dies.  In this case, John had been killed in a very humiliating way.  He had been mocked.  A young dancer had his head given to her mother on a dish by Herod who had no respect for John the Baptist, the great prophet.  He had him beheaded and made a mockery of him.  And Jesus had to experience all of that about his friend.

     Jesus goes away, overwhelmed by sorrow.  But people come to him because they have seen in him the love of God. That’s why they come flocking to him.  And, of course, on this occasion, too, Matthew tells us that Jesus didn’t say, “No, I have to be by myself.”  Jesus looked at these people and he had compassion and love.  His whole heart went out to them.  This is God’s love in Jesus. 

     And, of course, the incident that takes place then shows us that the love of God is without limit.  Jesus feeds these people and there’s way more than they need.  God’s love is just beyond limit, it’s overly abundant.

     And Saint Paul says, “What can separate us from that love of God?”  Nothing.  Nothing can break that bond of love.  We have to try to realize that, no matter how often we fail, no matter what we might think about ourselves. 

     So often, we do kind of make bad judgments about ourselves, hold ourselves in low esteem and don’t have much self esteem sometimes.  And we don’t really realize what a gift we are because of what God has given us.  We fail and so we think that God couldn’t love me.  But Paul says, “Nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ.”  It’s an unbreakable bond.  God has taken this initiative toward every one of us.  God loves us and nothing can break that bond of love.

     This is what God’s word is proclaiming to us today.  We have to try and let that enter deeply into our hearts and into our minds and into our whole beings.  Come to experience that God loves for me.  God reaches out in love to me in love first and nothing will ever stop God from loving me.

     As we do begin to experience that, our first reaction will be a profound sense of gratitude and joy.  If we really let ourselves become aware deeply in our consciousness that I am loved by God, we will be bursting forth with joy and gratitude.  We will experience a deep sense of peace in our heart that no one can take away from us. 

     But then, also, as we begin to understand better how God loves us, how that presence of God’s love is in Jesus who is still present in our world, it will help us to be aware that just as God loves us first, we must reach out in love to other people and do it first.  Not just respond in love to someone who loves us, but always be quick to love and to love first.

     And it’s very clear, isn’t it, that if Jesus were here this morning and if he was looking on all of us, but also looking beyond us to the world in which we live, his heart would be overflowing with compassion and with love.  Now he couldn’t bear the idea that these people had spent all that time in this deserted place and were without food--they needed to be fed. 

     Now look at our world.  These are numbers that we’ve heard before.  But listen to them today with an awareness of how much we’re loved by God and how much we’re blessed by God and how Jesus would be looking on our world.  A world in which 1.3 billion people try to survive on one dollar a day and 3 billion more people on 2 dollars a day.  Most of the people on our planet are hungry.  They’re without water.  They’re without food, without education, without medical care.  Most of the people are like those people in that deserted place. 

     Can’t you understand that Jesus looks upon them with compassion and love?

     Ok, we begin to understand that and so we say, “What do we have?  Well, we’re just like the disciples, we only have five loaves and two fishes.  What do you expect us to do?  What do you think that we can do with that?”  Well, Jesus says, “Let me bless those and you just begin to distribute.”  And so they go among the crowd and people begin to share. That’s the miracle.  Everyone begins to share because Jesus has blessed the food that they start with and they share and everyone has more than enough.

     That could happen in our world.  There is more than enough for everybody, but you and I don’t share enough.  Not only with the excess that we have, but we also don’t try to change things so that people will not be so deprived and that the resources of the world will be more fully shared by everyone. 

     You might say, “What can I do?  I’m only one person.”  Well Jesus didn’t let the disciples off that easily, did he?”  Do what you can and God will do the rest.

     I read a story, but I don’t if it’s true or not.  It may be true.  A few years ago there was an earthquake in Japan, you may remember this.  The story says that a youngster was going through a neighborhood trying to sell postcards for just a few cents each.  So he stopped at one house and the person there said, “What are you going to do with the money that you make?” This youngster says, “I’m raising a million dollars for earthquake relief.” “Well, your just a tiny little kid,” the man thought.  “That’s pretty funny.”  And the man said, “Are you going to do that all by yourself?”  And he says, “Oh no, my little brother is going to help me.”  So these two little kids are going to raise a million dollars.  Well, of course, they won’t.  But that’s the spirit we need to have, every one of us.  Do what we can and imitate the love of Jesus.  Reach out first and share whatever we have. 

     If we do that, then we will realize even more, every one of us, that God loves me.  And we will realize again, and everyday we will know this deeply, that God is good all the time, God is good all the time, and God shares that goodness through every one of us.

     In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.


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