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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
given at Saint Leo Church, Detroit, MI. Each homily is transcribed
from a tape recording of the actual delivery and made available to you
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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 notifed as soon as each is available. (See the upper right corner of this screen.)
In the scriptures, in St. Luke's Gospel especially, Jesus is pictured very often as celebrating at a meal. Scripture scholars and commentators tell us that these stories anticipate the Eucharist, our celebration today around this table -- Jesus left this seat for us. Remembering that, it occurs to me almost immediately how contemporary this story is. This incident in the gospel starts with those religious leaders -- the Pharisees, the scribes, those supposedly learned in the law -- complaining about Jesus. "He eats with sinners! He welcomes them."
Doesn't that remind you of people saying, "Don't let certain people come to the Eucharist. Turn them away." Could you imagine, if you listen to this Gospel, Jesus turning anyone away at the Eucharist? That's impossible for Jesus. He welcomes sinners. He welcomes all of us. He welcomes everyone. We must always keep in mind the way Jesus welcomes even sinners. In fact, I should not say "even" as though there are only some sinners. All of us are sinners. Jesus welcomes all of us to this feast.
But there is more to this Gospel. In today's scripture lessons, God is really trying to help us understand who God is. Who is God? I'm sure we would readily answer that question with words similar to those in the first letter of John. "God is love, and where there is love there is God." Yes, God is love. But I think for many of us, those are just words. The lessons today are trying to make those words concrete for us. God is truly love and only love.
The first lesson is an incomplete revelation in a way, because Moses is described as having to beg God to forgive these terrible sinners who had been unfaithful and began to worship an idol. Moses is described as pleading with God and even saying to God, "Look, what will the Egyptians think if you led those people into freedom and now you abandon them? You're gonna be laughed at by the Egyptians." Well, this is not really how it all happened, but, it shows us how Moses, and those who were trying to understand God, understood God at that time. You beg God and God forgives you.
Jesus takes it way beyond that. In the parables he tells us today, he shows us that it is God who takes the initiative. It is God who reaches out, because God loves us at every instant and there is no calculation to it. In fact, most people would say those parables don't make any sense. They're not logical. Would a shepherd really leave 99 sheep in the dangers of the desert to go and search for one? That is not logical, is it? Most people would say, we've got to cut our losses and save the 99. Not God. There is no limit to God's love. It is illogical, if you want to put it that way. There is no calculation to it. It is total love.
The parable about the coin and especially the one about the two sons are the same. There's so much we can learn from these parables if we take the time to quietly pray over them and reflect. Clearly, it is God who takes the initiative. It is God who watches for that young man and runs out to greet him. God's love is always reaching out to us. God is totally love.
Jesus uses these parables, which seem in some ways extreme, to show us how God is love. Of course, Jesus backs up his words with the way he lived and died. He lived always reaching out to people, always ready to forgive and always ready to welcome. He died loving and forgiving those who put him to death. "Greater love than this no one has than to lay down your life for another." Jesus did that for us. There is no greater love.
Jesus' love gathers us around this table today to repeat in some way that gift of his total love for us. That is the first thing that we really need to try to draw from today's scriptures: God is love. Total love. If we have experienced love in any degree, in any way in our lives, we can perhaps, begin to reflect on what it means if we could love totally, always and without limit and if people loved us the same way.
These lessons also remind us of how we are to respond to God. I'll bet that most of us, when we hear that parable about the two sons have some sense of sharing in the anger of the elder son. It does seem really unfair, doesn't it? The younger son takes half the inheritance, half of what belongs to the older son, and he goes out and wastes it all. Then he comes back, and he is overwhelmed with love from the father. The older son, meanwhile, never had a party given for him, he says. Notice his words when he rebukes his father: "I slaved for you all the time."
His relationship with his father -- and perhaps our relationship with God -- is wrong. He thinks that if he works hard enough, he will merit something. I think this same attitude is engrained in our culture. You are to work hard and then you get what you work for. You get what you deserve. Often it does not really work that way, but we think it will. We approach our relationship with God the same way. We sometimes think that we will earn God's love if we work hard enough if we are good enough. Do you see, though, how that is like becoming a slave? That is not the way God wants us to relate to God.
Just as God loves us without calculation and limits, we must try to love God the same way. Not measuring what we do, how well we function and according to the commandments, but simply try to love God. Jesus makes clear: Very often we love God by loving one another, loving our neighbor. We have to make sure that the way we try to respond to this God who is unlimited love is by responding out of love only. Not out of obligation. Not because we think we will earn something, but simply because God loves us and we love God.
It is a total gift of oneself to God. That's what you have to try to do.
The lesson here also is that the only way we are going to become everything God wills us to be, full human persons capable of love, is by always reaching out in love to other people and never allowing ourselves to be vengeful or hateful. God is love, and God makes us in God's image, so we not only have to love God but also love others as well as remove any spirit of vengeance, hatred or retaliation from our hearts. This is true for our relationships with one another and also with the world in which we live.
When we hate or if we learn to kill as young people are taught to kill by going to war, we are destroying something within ourselves. We can't let that happen. That is why we must say no to war. As Pope John Paul has urged us, "Say no to war." War throws into upheaval the lives of those who do the killing. If we learn to hate, to kill and to take vengeance, to retaliate, to get even, we are destroying the very image of God within us, and that is the worst tragedy.
Finally, as we reflect on these lessons today, we learn how God is love and we must respond only in love to God and then respond in the same way to one another. Learning this lesson can help prepare us for that moment when we will face God, after death.
A month or so ago, I told you about a book I was reading called Father Joe. The book has become somewhat popular. It is the story of a Benedictine monk who lived in England. He was in the monetary for more than 60 years and created a ministry of reaching out in love to people. He counseled many, many people as a confessor and as a teacher. One of the people he counseled was the book's author, Tony Hendra. Hendra had squandered much of his wealth in life, a life of foolish sinfulness, but he always went back to Father Joe. They had a lifelong relationship. The last time Tony saw Father Joe, the old monk was dying. Tony asked him:
"Aren't you afraid? Maybe there's nothing when you die?"
I am sure he was thinking about a God of love who lies beyond that door. Infinite. Eternal. Unlimited. How could we be worthy of that? We are nothing, are we, compared to the perfection of what comes next? Death makes failures of us all when we realize how small we are before the immensity of God's love. Going through the door of death, we move into God's immense love. It is beyond our understanding, beyond our expectations. But that is who God is. God is love. When we go through that door, we enter into the fullness of love and life forever.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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