The Peace Pulpit:  Homilies by Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton

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. 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 notified as soon as each is available. (See the upper right corner of this screen.)
Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord
August 6, 2006

Thomas J. Gumbleton
Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese
of Detroit, Michigan *

This week's readings **

Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14
"I kept looking until thrones were set up, and the Ancient of Days took His seat; His vesture was like white snow and the hair of His head like pure wool His throne was ablaze with flames, its wheels were a burning fire. A river of fire was flowing and coming out from before Him; thousands upon thousands were attending Him, and myriads upon myriads were standing before Him; the court sat, and the books were opened."
"I kept looking in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven one like a Son of Man was coming, and He came up to the Ancient of Days and was presented before Him. And to Him was given dominion, glory and a kingdom, that all the peoples, nations and men of every language might serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion which will not pass away; and His kingdom is one which will not be destroyed."

2 Peter 1:16-19
For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For when He received honor and glory from God the Father, such an utterance as this was made to Him by the Majestic Glory, "This is My beloved Son with whom I am well-pleased"-- and we ourselves heard this utterance made from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain. So we have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts.

Mark 9:2-10
Six days later, Jesus took with Him Peter and James and John, and brought them up on a high mountain by themselves. And He was transfigured before them;  and His garments became radiant and exceedingly white, as no launderer on earth can whiten them. Elijah appeared to them along with Moses; and they were talking with Jesus. Peter said to Jesus, "Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three tabernacles, one for You, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah." For he did not know what to answer; for they became terrified. Then a cloud formed, overshadowing them, and a voice came out of the cloud, "This is My beloved Son, listen to Him!" All at once they looked around and saw no one with them anymore, except Jesus alone. As they were coming down from the mountain, He gave them orders not to relate to anyone what they had seen, until the Son of Man rose from the dead. They seized upon that statement, discussing with one another what rising from the dead meant.

* 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).

**The Web link to Pax Christi is provided as a service to our readers.

A few Sundays ago, perhaps you remember, we had the Gospel lesson about Jesus preaching in his hometown of Nazareth, and afterwards he was rejected. His own family, three of his brothers are mentioned by name, and his neighbors would say things like, “Well who is this? Who does he think he is? Isn’t he just the carpenter’s son?”

You see, Jesus was so fully human there was no visible indication whatsoever of who he really is. His being God was totally hidden from anyone’s perception. It’s probably hard for us to put ourselves into that mentality of the people of the time of Jesus. We would think that they would all be overwhelmed because he was a wonder worker and he went around healing people and proclaiming God’s word and so on. But they saw him as one just like themselves.

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And that went on, you know, as the Christian community began to grow and develop, people continued to remember Jesus as a really good man who did so many wonderful things. But it was hard for them -- except those who had the immediate experience of the risen Jesus -- it was hard for people to really know this is the Son of God. This Jesus of Nazareth, someone like us in every way, is the Son of God.

And so that’s why as Mark wrote about Jesus and this experience that Peter, James and John had. In fact, all four of the Gospel writers put this incident in their Gospels. They wanted people to come to know Jesus was Son of God. In this experience, they draw from the Old Testament -- Moses and Elijah. Now for the Jewish-Christians of the time, those two names would immediately bring to their minds the law -- Moses gave us the law that formed us into the people of God, and then the prophets, all of those who spoke for God -- Elijah representing all of them. The law and the prophets. They appear and they speak with Jesus. But then they go away, they’re gone. And what’s the implication? Well, of course, it’s that Jesus fulfills all of the law, all of the prophets, transcends it, goes way beyond it, because he’s not just a law giver like Moses or not just any ordinary prophet. Jesus transcends the law and the prophet. Fulfills everything contained in the law and the prophet.

And that’s why Peter is overwhelmed. Mark says he was filled with awe, amazement and just befuddled I’m sure. And so he suggests, “Let’s build these three tents.” And that, too, for Jewish-Christians, would immediately bring to mind the Festival of Tents that they celebrate every year. And what was that celebration? It was a recalling of the time when they were traveling through the desert and God was so powerfully with them, so Peter is saying, “God is here, let’s build tents to show that God is present.”

And then, of course, the scene climaxed, when they hear the words, “This is my Son, the beloved” -- God speaking. Jesus is more than one like us in every way, except sin. Yes, he’s fully human but he’s also Son of God. He fulfills the law and the prophet, transcends them, moves us into a whole new relationship with God. And if we really begin to grasp this: Jesus is like us in every way -- he experienced all that we experienced, he knew the frustrations and the difficulties of trying to deal with other people, he knew how easy it was to turn to violence and to hatred and so on. He lived in a real world, with real people and he was really one of them. But he’s also Son of God, and so God’s words then mean so much. “Listen to him! Listen to him.”

Do we really listen to Jesus? That is, I think, the question that confronts us today.

If we accept that he is Son of God and Son of Mary, he is both human and divine so he does understand our problems, our difficulties, all the situations in which we find ourselves, but then he gives us, because he is the Son of God, a whole new way to respond. ( the Conversation
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If we really listen to Jesus how different things would be, I think. I’m sure all of us are aware of one of the controversies that existed in our country promoted especially by Christians. This happened in Alabama where they had on the wall in the courtroom a listing of the Ten Commandments and the judge even refused to take it down after the Supreme Court said it should come down. He said, “I’m a Christian. We believe in God, we need God’s Word there.”

But what if he and others who promote something like that were really listening to Jesus? It wouldn’t be the Ten Commandments. Yes, we accept the Ten Commandments, but we’ve moved beyond them. What would be the law of Jesus? Well, it’s all summed up in the Beatitudes. What if on that wall in the courtroom (and I can’t believe anybody would let this happen): “Blessed are the merciful.” You’re not going to condemn someone to death if you really listen to Jesus. Now maybe many of us have moved to that point where we would reject execution, the death penalty, because Jesus would never, ever put someone to death. Blessed are the merciful. Or if we really listen to Jesus would our response to what is happening in our world with regard to the poor and the hungry people be so lackadaisical?

In the bulletin today, I list some of what I spoke about last week about the situation in Haiti where our twin parish is and where people are suffering extreme poverty. Their lifespan is less than 50 years because they grow up malnourished and hungry. A large percentage of the kids die before they’re five years old -- it’s all there in the bulletin, but we look at that often and we just move on. It should outrage us and it should fill us with a spirit of compassion if we listen to Jesus! How different was his response to the poor and the hungry. Or if we really listen to Jesus would we be at war in Iraq? And would we continue that war even into an indefinite future?

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Just this week I read an article by Father Andrew Greeley, a priest from Chicago who writes a regular column. In it he says,

The New York Times reported that during recent months a hundred Iraqis die violently every day, 3,000 every month. In terms of size of population, that is the equivalent of 300,000 Americans a month, 10,000 every day. Yet the typical television clip on the evening news -- an explosion, automatic weapon fire, dead bodies on the streets -- has become as much a cliché as the weather report or another loss by the [ Chicago] Cubs. The dead Iraqis are of no more value to us than artificial humans in video games. The Iraqis seem less than human, people with dark skin, hate in their eyes, and a weird religion, screaming in pain over their losses. Weep with them, weep for them?

Not many of us even let ourselves be aware. As Andrew Greeley concludes his article he says,

The hundred who die every day are not merely numbers, they are real human beings. Their deaths are personal disasters for the dead person and also for all those who love them: parents, children, wives, husbands. Most Americans are not outraged. Iraqis are a little less than human. If a hundred people were dying every day in our neighborhoods, we would scream in outrage and horror. Not many of us are lamenting these daily tragedies. Quite the contrary, we wish the newscast would go on to the weather for the next weekend.

If we really listen to Jesus we would take in this message from Andrew Greeley. How different would be our reaction, how different would be what we would do. I’m afraid that we don’t listen to Jesus, he could not be indifferent to that kind of suffering, that kind of killing. So if we listen to Jesus, we must not be indifferent. We must demand that this kind of violence stop.

At the risk of going on a bit too long because it’s hot, but I’ll do it anyway, the other terrible situation in our world right now is what’s happening over in the Middle East, in Beirut, throughout Lebanon, and Israel. Listen to what Pope Benedict a couple of weeks ago spoke about when he was reflecting on the Scriptures. This really applies to today’s Scriptures too.

Jesus has triumphed upon the Cross. He did not triumph with a new empire, with a power greater than others and capable of destroying them. He triumphed not in an ordinary human way as we would imagine with an empire more powerful than others. He triumphed with a love, with a love capable of reaching even to death. This is God’s new way of winning. He does not oppose violence with a stronger form of violence. He opposes violence with it’s exact opposite -- love, love to the very end, his Cross. This is God’s humble way of winning -- with love -- and this is the only way and it is possible God puts a limit on violence. This is a way that seems very slow to us but it is the real way to overcome evil, to overcome violence, and we must entrust ourselves to this divine way of winning.

If we really listen to Jesus would we not be demanding that our government stop sending weapons, arming Israel so they can continue to bomb the people of Lebanon, totally destroy their infrastructure, kill hundreds of people. We must begin to listen to Jesus. It is the only way to bring his compassion, his love, his joy, his peace into our world. Listen to Jesus. Follow his way and the reign of God will really begin to break forth.

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