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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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Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time
August 18, 2002

Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese
of Detroit, Michigan *

This week's readings **

Isaiah 56:1, 6-7

Thus says the Lord, "Do what is just, and observe righteousness; for my salvation is near to come, and my righteousness to be revealed. Also the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, to minister to him, and to love the name of the Lord, to be his servants, everyone who keeps the Sabbath from profanation, and holds fast my covenant; even them will I bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer: their burnt offerings and their sacrifices shall be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.

Romans 11:13-15, 29-32

Brothers and sisters: I am speaking to you Gentiles.  Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I glory in my ministry in order to make my race jealous and thus save some of them.  For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?

For the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable.  Just as you once disobeyed God but have now received mercy because of their disobedience, so they have now disobeyed in order that, by virtue of the mercy shown to you, they too may now receive mercy.  For God delivered all to disobedience, that he might have mercy upon all.

Matthew 15:21-28

Jesus went out from there, and withdrew into the region of Tyre and Sidon.  Behold, a Canaanite woman came out from those borders, and cried, saying, "Have mercy on me, Lord, you son of David! My daughter is severely demonized!"  But he answered her not a word.  His disciples came and begged him, saying, "Send her away; for she cries after us."  But he answered, "I wasn not sent to anyone but the lost sheep of the house of Israel."  But she came and worshiped him, saying, "Lord, help me."  But he answered, "It is not appropriate to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs." But she said, "Yes, Lord, but even the dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their masters' table."  Then Jesus answered her, "Woman, great is your faith! Be it done to you even as you desire."  And her daughter was healed from that hour.

* 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 feel like I must ask what you think about this week’s gospel.  Pretty strange, isn’t it?  It’s very unusual because we see Jesus in a way that we’re not used to seeing him.  He seems so harsh.  It’s the only time in all the gospels where Jesus is shown as not immediately responding with compassion and with love to someone who comes to him in distress. Even some of the words he uses are like the slang words that Jewish people would use about the pagans or gentiles.  Dogs they would call them.  And that’s how Jesus seems to be addressing the woman in this incident.  “It’s not right to give the bread of the children to the dogs,” he says. 

     Well, if we take a little bit of time to reflect on this very carefully, we discover something quite different.  It really isn’t as harsh and indifferent or hurtful as it seems to be.  The disciples definitely want to get rid of the woman.  But one scripture commentator, John McKenzie, says what is really happening here is Jesus is showing us who he really is. He’s a Palestian person, fully human.  And McKenzie says he would not be a true Palestian if he did not at times engage in a duel of wit with other people.  And he suggests that Jesus is really speaking with a little bit of a sense of humor here.  It’s a duel of wit between himself and this woman. 

     And that’s how people would often engage in a conversation among the Palestians of whom Jesus was one.  He says one thing and she responds.  He comes back and then she comes back, until finally she gets the last word.  But he is stopped when she says to him, “Look, even the little dogs get the crumbs from the master’s table.”  What can Jesus say to that?  He’s trapped in this duel of wit that she has won.  Then, of course, Jesus does immediately say, “Woman, you have such extraordinary faith and what you wish is granted.” 

     So he’s really reaching out in love.  And he does it in a way that when you understand the full context, it’s really very enlightening about who Jesus is and how he acted.  And what’s even more important is to notice how he changes during this duel of wits.  He’s converted, because he had said before, and he had thought this was so, that in fact his ministry was confined to his own people and now he realizes that everyone is included.  And that’s what he’s teaching those disciples and that’s what he’s teaching us:  There’s no limit to the love of God. 

     God doesn’t measure the mercy that God pours forth in this world according to whether you are Muslim, Jewish or Christian.  God’s love goes out to all of us as Isaiah said in the first lesson when he gave that new vision to the chosen people and they were rebuilding their temple: “No longer is it going to be just for the Jews. My temple is going to be a house of prayer for all peoples, for everyone.”  God’s love is without limits.

     Saint Matthew recorded this in the gospel because the community he was writing for was mostly a community of Jewish people and they were having a hard time accepting the gentiles, the non-Jewish people, into their community.  He wanted to show them, “Look, welcome them.  God is a God of love for all.”

     Now, of course, it wasn’t only for Matthew’s community, we too have to listen to this gospel passage very carefully.  And if we do, there are a lot of things we will learn for ourselves.

     One of the first things is regarding women.  And it seems to me to be very striking especially when you remember that at the time of Jesus women had no place in society.  They were totally without rights.  It was wrong even for a woman to be out in public by herself.  And certainly it was wrong for her to approach a man and speak to him.  But Jesus allowed that to happen.  Not only did he allow that to happen, he listened to her.  In the duel of wits, he acknowledged she’s right, I was wrong, and he changed.  He learned from a woman, and from a pagan.  He changed.

     Isn’t it very necessary for us as a church to try to learn from others in the world around us?  And once in a while it happens. 

     A number of years ago, Pope Paul VI wrote what is called a Peace Day statement for January 1st of 1976.  In that Peace Day statement, Paul VI was talking about all the violence that had gone on in the world.  And he cited especially the utter horror of Hiroshima.  He called it a butchery of untold magnitude. You just can’t describe the horror of dropping a bomb on a whole city and killing 100,000 people in 90 seconds.  Paul was struggling to say, “How are we going to turn away from that?”  And he says, “The model for our times is the poor, weak man, Gandhi.” 

     Imagine Pope Paul, the head of the Roman Catholic, saying the model for our times is a Hindu -- a Hindu who knew what non-violence meant and how you transform the world through love -- the model for our times is this Hindu.  “Listen to him.”  In effect, that’s what Pope Paul is telling us.  It’s amazing.  And we do need to listen to voices like that if we’re ever going to end the violence in the world around us.  It seems so necessary right now in fact.

     You know, we are living in a moment when our president is threatening war -- even what he calls preemptive war, something that’s never happened -- that you would go to war to preempt someone from attacking you. 

     Some people in the media, right now, or public life are challenging that.  Political people and military people.  But, you know, the strange thing is that there’s no moral challenge.  You don’t find religious leaders saying, “Wait, there’s a moral question here.  It’s not just pragmatic.  There’s a moral question.”  If we had been listening to Gandhi, we would be objecting, crying out against what’s going on.  That’s why we have to listen as Jesus listened to that woman.  Or I think within our own church.

     This week, or later on this week in St. Louis, there’s going to be a meeting of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious.  These are women from all over the country who are the heads of religious communities of women.  They represent tens of thousands of people in our church, women who could be among the leadership in our church.  And, yet, it’s almost a joke.  We go to a meeting of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington in November and there will be one or two people from this leadership conference of women.  They’re allowed to sit there and listen, but they are not allowed to speak.  They have no real participation in the proceedings.  Aren’t we depriving ourselves of real genuine leadership in our church because we don’t give women a place of leadership?

     Think how different it would have been in the current crisis in our church if there had been some women in leadership positions who had children who had been abused.  Do you think they would have been quiet about it or that they would have let priests be moved from one place to another?  No, certainly not.  But, for the most part, we refuse to listen to women in our church.  We give them no place of leadership whatsoever. 

     Jesus was so different, wasn’t he?  He listened to that woman and it changed him for the better. And that could happen to us and to our church too.

     But, of course, we could take it one step further.  You know, it’s not only in our society or in the church, but it’s in our homes, too, isn’t it, that we need to learn to listen to one another, to respect one another.  No one is to be dominant over another.  In the relationship of husband and wife, for example, there has to be mutuality and true, genuine deep respect and listening to one another.  And how that would help to make every family a place where we would grow in love and grow in our ability to affect the world around us.  We would be a community of love within our own family.  Or here in our parish family and in our community, if we listened to one another and let ourselves be changed.

     That’s what Jesus is teaching us today, that if we listen, even to someone who seems not to be the one we would expect to be teaching us, we will find peace.  If we listen to one another in our world, in our family, in our church, and we allow ourselves to be changed, then what we need to happen will happen.  We will discover peace within our heart, within our family and in our world.

     Today we have an extraordinary example of how Jesus, in his humanness, changed. And we pray that every one of us can continue to change for the better; a little bit each day because we listened to one another. 

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


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