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Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese
of Detroit, Michigan *
Thus says the Lord, "You, son of man, I have set you as watchman
to the house of Israel. Therefore hear the word at my mouth, and give them
warning from me. When I tell the wicked, 'O wicked man, you shall surely
die,' and you do not speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked
man shall die for his guilt, but I will hold you responsible for his death.
Bit if you warn the wicked of his way to turn from it, and he doesn't turn
from his way; he shall die for his guilt, but you have delivered your soul.
Brothers and sisters: Owe no one anything, except to love one another;
for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. For the commandments,
"You shall not commit adultery," "You shall not murder," "You shall not
steal," "You shall not give false testimony," "You shall not covet," and
whatever other commandments there are, are all summed up in this saying,
namely, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." Love doesn't harm a
neighbor. Love therefore is the fulfillment of the law.
Jesus said to his disciples, "If your brother
sins against you, go, show him his fault between you and him alone. If
he listens to you, you have gained back your brother. But if he doesn't
listen, take one or two more with you, that at the mouth of two or three
witnesses every word may be established. If he refuses to listen
to them, tell it to the assembly. If he refuses to hear the assembly also,
let him be to you as a Gentile or a tax collector. Most assuredly I tell
you, whatever things you will bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and
whatever things you will release on earth will be released in heaven. Again,
assuredly I tell you, that if two of you will agree on earth concerning
anything that they will ask, it will be done for them by my Father who
is in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in my name,
there I am in the midst of 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
last two or three Sundays, you may recall, we have been reminding ourselves
that as the church we are the community of the disciples of Jesus bound
together by the faith that we share--the rock on which the church is built.
But every community, as well as our own community or any community, will find itself at times struggling because there’s always the danger that some in the community will disrupt the harmony and the unity and the peace that should be there. Certainly, in the last few months, we’ve seen how the body of Christ, our church, the community of the disciples of Jesus, has been hurt so grievously by those who are called to minister in a very special way within the community--by priests and bishops.
But this isn’t something new that the community of the disciples of Jesus finds itself disrupted at times and the harmony and the peace torn apart. In the very beginning, as the church began to be established, they discovered that at times someone within the membership, someone from the community or maybe a group would be disruptive, be evil, or do things that are hurtful to the community and to people at large.
And so if you notice in the Gospel of Matthew, and it might not be too easy to notice this, it is divided into five very important sections. Today, with the beginning of the eighteenth chapter of Matthew, we begin the fourth section, which is called a sermon on the church. By the time Matthew was writing this gospel, the community had begun to be structured and organized. They also found that there were those who were, at times, were disruptive, people who were publicly harming the body of Christ.
What do you do?
Matthew in today’s gospel lays out a process of how you deal with this. He says, “If someone has done evil, another in the church must go to that person and confront them, ask questions, raise issues. And if that does not resolve the problem, then you go and get two or three people to join in this confronting. And if that doesn’t solve the problem, then you take it to the whole assembled community, the whole church. And if the person still doesn’t repent, treat that person like a publican or a gentile, one who isn’t part of the community.” Now that’s the process that’s laid out here and it sounds perhaps a bit harsh. And sometimes people have taken it to the point where they have developed what they call shunning; you drive the person away in order to keep the church with its integrity.
But we have to notice that in Matthew’s gospel, even though he gives us this process and it’s laid out very clearly, he wants us to realize that this is a process that you carry out within the context of everything that Jesus teaches. And so just before this part of the gospel, we have the parable that Jesus tells about the sheep, the one that is lost and the shepherd that goes after it. He leaves the ninety-nine and goes to look for the one that is lost.
Jesus told this parable precisely because he was being accused of spending too much time with the publicans and the sinners. So he wanted people to know that he never gives up on anyone. So there is mercy in a sense that if you’re a publican or a sinner or a pagan or a tax collector, Jesus will still come looking for you--and so must the church.
And right after this passage, as we’ll hear next Sunday, Peter says to Jesus, “Well, how many times do you forgive, seven times?” And Jesus says, “No, not seven times. Seven times seven times, without limit.”
And so even though you have this very clear process of how to try to heal disruption within the church and people who are disruptive, we must never forget that there’s always going to be a kind of a tension as you try to deal with it in an objective and maybe almost a legalistic way. You also must keep in mind that Jesus went after that one lost sheep because he never gave up. And that Jesus says, “Forgive without limit; unconditional love.”
So you have to try to balance the way we act toward those who disrupt our community by their evil action. And, perhaps, if we had done this as the church, not just in the past six months or year, but over the past few years our church would be healed.
And one of the parts of that process that has been neglected is the last part. The whole church needs to be dealing with this. And that’s why it so troubling that, even now, when there are people in the church who are speaking up and saying, “We need to be involved,” and yet bishops are saying you can’t meet in the Catholic Church. There’s a whole group called the Voices of the Faithful. It’s as if the people don’t have a call from Jesus in this gospel lesson to deal with these problems. All of us must be involved in trying to say how we handle the problems that have brought such hurt to our church.
The least that anyone of us can do of course is to try to maintain that spirit, dealing with problems when they happen, confronting evil when it’s there, confronting the person who does evil. But also, we must do so always with the remembrance that Jesus went after that lost sheep. Jesus says, “Forgive, seven times seven.” He never says anything about zero tolerance. It would be unimaginable to Jesus. You have to forgive, you have to try to draw back, and you have to heal.
This of course will require great skill, but not skill so much, I think, as it has to happen out of deep faith. That’s why Jesus says, “Gather together in prayer and where two or three of you are there, where the whole community is assembled, I will be there in your midst to guide you, to lead you, to help you and our church can be healed.”
The first lesson today reminds us of how important it is that we work for this healing in the church. Ezekiel reminds us that everyone of us has to be a prophet and that our church has to be prophetic. Ezekiel was ready to give up prophesying. He had been preaching and the people paid no attention. Jeremiah had been preaching and they paid no attention. And Jeremiah, as we learned in the lesson last Sunday, wanted to give up but the word of God was burning in his heart and he couldn’t proclaim it. And Ezekiel wanted to give up, but God tells him, “No, you must be the watchman. You must keep proclaiming the message.” And our church has to be that prophetic church. And that’s why it’s so important for us to be healed, so that we can proclaim God’s word. We are at a point in our history as a nation, this is so clear, where our church must be a prophetic church.
This week we celebrate, not celebrate so much as simply try to remember in sorrow and pain, what happened last year on September 11. And our nation has responded to that, but mostly with the response of violence. What if we had really taken seriously what Pope John Paul put in his Peace Day statement at the beginning of this year, and if as a whole church we were proclaiming this message to ourselves and to our nation? John Paul says, “You are not going to end terrorism through more terrorism, through violence. The only way you will build peace in our world is if you build it on the pillars of justice and that special kind of love we call forgiveness.”
We haven’t heard that message this year, and so now our nation is ready to go to war again. Kill more, thousands and tens of thousands of innocent people. Will that solve our problem? Will that end terrorism? Will that bring peace to the world?
Not if you look back in history. War has never brought peace. The war to end all wars did not end all wars. As John Paul said about the first Persian Gulf War, “When you go to war, you only make it more difficult to solve the very problems that provoked the dispute in the first place.” War doesn’t bring peace. Yet, if you read the papers and listen to our president and our other leaders, we’re determined to go to war.
We ought to have a church prophetically proclaiming the message of Jesus. Our whole church must be doing that and each one of us too.
You know when you were baptized you were signed with holy chrism as priest, prophet and king. Each of us has a responsibility to be that prophet, to live that message of Jesus in such a way that we proclaim the only way to peace in the world will be to give up war and turn to instead to those pillars that can build peace, justice and that special kind of love we call forgiveness.
I suggest that as each of us tries to be converted to this message of Jesus, and all of us need that conversion because it isn’t very easy to accept how Jesus says you bring peace into the world, we have to stand up against the majority of the people in our nation in proclaiming this message. Maybe we have to, each of us, be more deeply converted in our own hearts in order to become that healed and prophetic church that we must be.
And so I suggest that maybe if you haven’t been doing this, each day, begin to pray that prayer in time of terrorism that you will find in today’s bulletin.
Oh God, I do not know where to turn in the time of terrorism. I have no easy answers or solutions to acts of terror against the innocent. When buildings explode without warning, when the defenseless are murdered without reason, I am tempted to retaliate with vengeance. I am tempted to place the flag above the cross and put my faith in the state rather than the Sermon on the Mount. I am afraid to face my deepest fears of suffering and death, both for myself and those I love. Oh God, be merciful to me, a sinner, and understand my weakness, my lack of trust. I lift my heart to a God of forgiveness, of compassion, of peace. I believe that you are not present in any act of violence. I believe that every human being is a child of God and that all nations and religions are embraced by you. I believe that violence ignites greater violence and that in the long line of history our only lasting legacy is love. And so I recommit myself to nonviolence as a witness of your love. I will embrace the sufferings of others and wipe every tear from their eyes. I will devote my days to works of mercy and justice, not to deeds of death and destruction. I will give my passion to kindness, beauty and imagination. I commit to hope and the children of tomorrow.
If each of us says that prayer every day, it will begin to change our hearts and perhaps we will become, each of us individually and all of us as a community of the disciples of Jesus, the prophetic people that we are called to be.
In the name of the Father
and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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