|ThePeace Pulpit: Homilies by Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton|
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|Twenty-sixth Week in Ordinary Time|
September 25, 2005
So then Jesus goes on to emphasize how clearly they are acting in a hypocritical way, a dishonest way. He challenges the religious leaders, the civil authorities by telling that parable about the two sons. It's very obvious. The first son says, "I won't go," and then does go to do the work the father asked him to do. The second son says, "Oh, I'll go." Right away he says that, but he never goes. Well, which one does the will of the father? The answer is very easy: the one who said "no" at first then repented and did it. Remember at the end of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus told us, "Not everyone who says, 'Lord, Lord!' will enter the reign of God, but those who do the will of God will enter the reign of God." So Jesus exposed these leaders as people who said one thing but their actions didn't follow what they said. They claimed to proclaim God's word and to preach according to God's will, but their actions contradicted what they said. They were hypocrites. They needed to be challenged, and Jesus did this. As I reflected on this, I was wondering to myself: Why did Jesus take on so clearly the role of defending those the scribes, the Pharisees and the Priests rejected, the ones Jesus described when he said, "The publicans, the prostitutes, the tax collectors, all of those people you reject -- they're entering the reign of God before you." Jesus was defending them and speaking up for them. Why did he have such a connection to them?
Well, I think the second lesson today helps to understand this because Paul describes how Jesus in his life continued to move closer and closer to those who were rejected by the "good" people, by the scribes and the Pharisees, the religious leaders. Paul said that Jesus, though he carried within himself the perfect image of God, kept emptying himself, kept moving closer and closer to those rejected, those despised, those put aside, the poor, the tax collectors, the sinners -- anyone who was rejected by the so-called "good" people. Jesus identified more and more with them until as Paul said, "He even gave himself over to death" -- and most extraordinarily -- even the horrific death of the cross. He allowed himself to be identified with the worst criminal, those who were executed by crucifixion. Jesus moved among those whom the rest of us would have rejected probably. He identified with them; he spoke up for them, and he had the courage to speak out for them. That is why he challenged the scribes and the Pharisees, who had no regard for these people, simply condemning them as not being worthy of being God's people. Jesus stood up for them and exposed the hypocrisy of the leaders who would say one thing and do another. He did this, I think, because he so clearly identified with the poor, the suffering, the rejected, the despised people who were looked down upon so easily.
But what about in our own country? Are there times when we too must challenge authority, civil authority, for example? I think we could say -- and most people now agree to this -- that our government mislead us; it took us into a war that has brought about extraordinary, almost unbelievable suffering for the people of Iraq. There are those among us who are standing up and saying no to this government. Many of our own family members are in Washington over the weekend protesting, speaking up, challenging our government, because it told us one thing (Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and was connected with 9-11), and these things were not true. So we have to expose the hypocrisy and speak out against it. It seems to me the responsibility to expose hypocrisy is something all of us could have once we begin to see how Jesus acted toward civil and religious authorities.
What is even harder for us, and it must have been hard for Jesus too, is to challenge religious authority. But when religious authorities in our church say one thing and then act in a different way, it seems to me that we're called to challenge that, to speak out if necessary to try to counteract what our religious authorities do. I have here a very small pamphlet. It was published by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops. It's called, "Always Our Children" I'm sure many of you are familiar with this. It's a pastoral message to parents of homosexual children. At the very end of the message it says:
"To our homosexual brothers and sisters we offer a concluding word: This pastoral message has been an outstretched hand to your parents and family inviting them to accept God's great presence in their lives now and to trust in the unfailing mercy of Jesus, our Lord. Now we stretch out our hands and invite you to do the same. We are called to become one body, one spirit in Christ. We need one another … [and] though at times you may feel discouraged, hurt or angry do not walk away from your families, from the Christian community, from all those who love you. In you God's love is revealed. You are always our children."
What a beautiful message to gay and lesbian people, young men and women or older men and women even. What a beautiful message to say to them, "In you God's love is revealed. You are always our children." But then what happened last week? We discover that now the church, the leadership of the church, is going to bar any gay person from the seminary. That's an insult, to say that even though you're made in God's image -- it says right here "in you God's love is revealed" -- but you can't be in the seminary. It's a terrible injustice. It's a terrible cruelty inflicted against this minority in our community. Don't we have to speak up against that? Don't we have to say, "No, we're not going to accept that kind of discrimination, that kind of injustice"? I think we do. I think that's what Jesus was doing. He spoke up against those who would say one thing and then act in a different way, and that -- it seems sadly enough -- is what the religious leaders of our church are doing. They say one thing, "In you God's love is revealed," but then say, "You're not worthy to be in the seminary." It is a terrible cruelty and injustice.
And so as we try to imitate the example of Jesus, again I urge us to be courageous, to speak out when necessary but always to do it from an awareness of our own weakness, of our own sinfulness, aware that we are forgiven sinners and all of us together are struggling to follow faithfully God's will. Not just saying, "Lord, Lord!" but always trying to do the will of God. If we can act in this way, then gradually we will begin to change ourselves, our society and our world. We will help to make the reign of God truly happen.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Editor's Note: The document "Always Our Children" can be found on the bishop conference's web site: www.usccb.org/laity/always.shtml
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