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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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Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
September 22, 2002

Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese
of Detroit, Michigan *

This week's readings **

Isaiah 55:6-9

Seek you the Lord while he may be found; call him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous one his thoughts; and let him return to the Lord, and he will have mercy on him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts above your thoughts.

Phiippians 1:20c-24, 27a

Brothers and sisters, Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life, or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.  If I go on living in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. And I do not know which I shall choose. But I am in a dilemma between the two, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. Yet, to remain in the flesh is more needful for your sake.  Only let your manner of life be worthy of the Gospel of Christ.

Matthew  20:1-16a

Jesus told his disciples this parable: "For the Kingdom of Heaven is like a man who was the master of a household, who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. When he had agreed with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. He went out about the third hour, and saw others standing idle in the marketplace. To them he said, 'You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right I will give you.' So they went their way. Again he went out about the sixth and the ninth hour, and did likewise.  About the eleventh hour he went out, and found others standing idle. He said to them, 'Why do you stand here all day idle?' They said to him, 'Because no one has hired us.'  He said to them, 'You also go into the vineyard, and you will receive whatever is right.'  When evening had come, the lord of the vineyard said to his steward, 'Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning from the last to the first.'  When those who were hired at about the eleventh hour came, they each received a denarius. When the first came, they supposed that they would receive more; and they likewise each received a denarius.  When they received it, they murmured against the master of the household, saying, 'These last have spent one hour, and you have made them equal to us, who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat!'  But he answered one of them, 'Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Didn't you agree with me for a denarius? 20:14Take that which is yours, and go your way.  It is my desire to give to this last just as much as to you.  Isn't it lawful for me to do what I want to with what I own? Or is your eye evil, because I am good?'  So the last will be first, and the first last.

* 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 hope you paid special attention to the last sentence of the second reading today where Paul says to the church at Philippi and to all of us, “Try then to change your lives according to the gospel, the gospel of Christ Jesus.”

     Try then to change your lives.  

     Now, if we really had been listening to the gospel lessons of last Sunday and today, I’m sure we have a sense that  changing our lives according to the gospel of Jesus is not something we do very easily. Remember last Sunday when Peter asked Jesus, “How many times do I forgive, seven times?” And Jesus said, “No, seventy-seven times.” 

     There is no limit to how many times you forgive. 

     And then Jesus told the parable about forgiveness that we heard last Sunday; a very powerful parable where the man came to the master to whom he owed a great debt and said, “Give me a chance and I will pay it back, everything.” And the one who was owed the debt said, “No, it’s all over, you are forgiven.” But that same person did not realize that the way God had acted toward him had to be the way he acts toward others.  So the man went on his way and someone who owed him a very paltry debt said, “I’ll pay you back, just give me time.”  But the one who had been forgiven everything was still living according to his old ways -- demand what you have coming to you.  Even though he had been forgiven everything, he didn’t understand what Jesus was saying through the parable, “You have to be totally different.” He still wanted to live according to the old ways, “You owe me so much, you pay me back so much.” Whereas God’s way was, “I just forgive everything.”

     Isaiah proclaimed to us today, “God’s ways are not our ways. God’s thoughts are not our thoughts.” And it really is hard for us to change our ways and our thoughts, to make them according to God’s ways and God’s thoughts as proclaimed to us by Jesus.  “Change your lives according to the Gospel.”

     Today, we hear another parable that’s even more challenging.  I’m sure there’s probably hardly any one of us in this church who doesn’t feel some sense of maybe anger or at least that it’s unfair.  How can a person who only worked one hour be paid as much as someone who worked all day long?  You call that fair?

     You see, what Jesus is trying to tell us is that God moves way beyond fairness and justice. God’s ways are not our ways. God’s thoughts are not our thoughts. God is a God of unlimited love.

     One of the things that I think any one of us, if we’d been in that crowd who’d been hired that day, would have thought about the other people who got hired.  “They’re just too lazy to come and work all day long and yet they get everything that we get.”  But if you listen to the parable carefully, that wasn’t the case.

     In the parable, the master, who represents God, Jesus being God for us, goes and discovers that these people hadn’t been able to find work. Sure they wanted to work, but they couldn’t find it, so they were going to be left without the compensation that they needed to live on.  So the master in the parable just says, “I’ll give them as much as I give anybody.” They need what is just, they need what is necessary to live on. And so God gives it. God’s ways are not our ways and God’s thoughts are not our thoughts.

     And I think we’re living at a time where this message has to be heard by us more clearly and accepted by us with more conviction and with more courage than ever before. You can’t live in this country, right now with what is going on with our government, and not be challenged to think, “Are we following God’s ways?”

     You know this past Friday our president submitted to the Congress as he must do by law what is called the Strategy of National Security for the United States. And when you read that document and you see what our president is proposing for us as a nation and if you can say we are following God’s ways then you haven’t heard anything Jesus has been teaching us.

     Among other things, in that parable today, Jesus takes the time to go and find out about each of those persons who couldn’t find work.  He wants to know what their circumstances are. He gets to know them as individuals.  He reaches out to them, he loves them, pours forth his love upon them.

     One of the ways that we avoid following God’s ways is by depersonalizing people that we want to hate, that we want to kill and destroy, instead of getting to know them and trying to find out if people hate us, why do they hate us. We need to find out what has happened in their lives. What have we done to them perhaps?  If we never find out about the individual people, if we paint everybody with the same brush, we’ll never know.

     With regard to Iraq, we don’t even think of the people of Iraq. We personify the whole nation with one person and then we demonize that one person, instead of saying these are individual people in that country of Iraq and that every one of them is a child of God.  Every one of them has a personal life, a personal history.  Every one of them is part of the human family.  Every one of them is brother and sister to us.

     God’s ways would compel us, if we followed Gods ways, to think of people in Iraq or anyone part of the world as individual persons, each one made in the image and likeness of God.  But we don’t do that.  We depersonalize them.  We make them, as President Bush says, into an Axis of Evil. They’re just evil.

     And so then we prepare, according to this strategy statement for our national security, to increase our military forces. The president proclaims, “We are leading the world in armaments, in weapons of even massive destruction, and we will never relinquish that lead.” That’s what he says in this document. We’re going to dominate the world and we’re going to do it by military force.

     That’s not the way of Jesus, is it?  It’s not the way of Jesus and, yet, if we’re going to act against that, we’re going to have to act against what is popular opinion.  It seems that our country simply doesn’t understand or want to understand that there might be another way to bring peace to the world than through military violence enforced through killing; through bringing about extreme suffering for hundreds of thousands if not millions of people.

     Another way, God’s way. 

     But God’s ways are not our ways unless we, as Paul urges us, adjust our lives and change our lives according to the gospel of Jesus. 

     Today, I suggest that every one of us has to think deeply about how closely my thinking is in accord with the thinking of Jesus.  How closely do I want to follow the way of Jesus?  How much effort I will make to try to change public opinion, try to change government policy so that we can work to bring God’s peace to our world?

     As I was reflecting on these scriptures and the challenge that they present to us, I had to think about how often during the history of the chosen people in the Old Testament, how often the people failed to heed what the prophets were saying. And it always ended up in their destruction.

     In the first lesson today, the people had been in exile for 70 years because they had refused to give up armaments as the prophets had pleaded with them to do and they brought about their own destruction. 

     And so I ask myself, “Are we repeating the same pattern? Are we refusing to listen to God’s voice, to God’s ways?  And will it lead to our own destruction?” 

     We can pretend we’re going to dominate the world through military force, military power, but it won’t happen. It will only ultimately, I’m convinced, bring about self-destruction in some way. Only now, as all of us must know, the stakes are so much higher because of the kinds of weapons that are present in the world. With the kinds of weapons we have now, everything could be over in a half hour.  It’s that stark of a reality.

     Somehow I pray and I hope that all of us will pray that we can listen to this gospel of Jesus and again as Paul says, “Change our lives according to his gospel.”  Change our lives, change our thinking, change our ways.  Only if we do that, will we ultimately find peace in the world.

     Jesus told us the parable today to give us a sense of what the reign of God is like. The reign of God is a time when there’s overflowing love; the way the master in the parable was to everyone; overflowing love, mercy and forgiveness -- that’s the reign of God.  But it will only happen if you and I listen to the gospel of Jesus and try to live it.

     And if we can do that, listen, change our lives, live the gospel of Jesus, perhaps we can be as we are called to be as a community of disciples, a voice that will bring about change in our nation and will help our nation to lead the way toward peace and not towards ultimate destruction.

     Change our lives according to the way of the gospel.

     I hope everyone will go home determined to do that. 

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


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