ThePeace Pulpit:  Homilies by Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton

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. 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.)
Twenty-sixth Week in Ordinary Time
September 25, 2005

Thomas J. Gumbleton
Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese
of Detroit, Michigan *

This week's readings **

Ezekiel 18:25-28
"Yet you say, 'The way of the Lord is not right ' Hear now, O house of Israel! Is My way not right? Is it not your ways that are not right? When a righteous man turns away from his righteousness, commits iniquity and dies because of it, for his iniquity which he has committed he will die. Again, when a wicked man turns away from his wickedness which he has committed and practices justice and righteousness, he will save his life. Because he considered and turned away from all his transgressions which he had committed, he shall surely live; he shall not die."

Philippians 2:1-11
Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be rasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Matthew 21:28-32
But what do you think? A man had two sons, and he came to the first and said, 'Son, go work today in the vineyard.' And he answered, 'I will not'; but afterward he regretted it and went. The man came to the second and said the same thing; and he answered, 'I will, sir'; but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?" They said, "The first." Jesus said to them, "Truly I say to you that the tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him; but the tax collectors and prostitutes did believe him; and you, seeing this, did not even feel remorse afterward so as to believe him."

* Alongtime national and international activist in the peace movement, BishopGumbleton is a founding member of Pax Christi USA and an outspoken criticof the sanctions against Iraq.
Hehas appeared on numerous radio and television programs, and has publishednumerous articles and reports.

* Scripture texts in thiswork are in modified form from the American Standard Version of the Bibleand are available as part of the public domain.

For your convenience, theScripture texts, as they appear in the Lectionary for Mass for Use in theDioceses 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 CatholicBishops (USCC).

**The Web link to Pax Christi is provided as a service to our readers.

To begin to get the full impact of today's gospel lesson we have to understand the context in which this event happened. Jesus had arrived in Jerusalem on his final trip to that city and in a very daring way he challenged the religious authorities and the civil authorities, who were in a way combined for the Jewish people. The Jewish priests and Pharisees were leaders both in the civil law and the spiritual. Jesus challenged them because he went into the temple, knocked over the tables where the buyers and sellers were working, drove them out and said, "Don't make the house of God a tent of thieves!" Because of this very dramatic challenge, they came to Jesus and said, "By what authority are you doing this? Who are you after all?" Remember that from a human perspective, within the framework of the Jewish community, Jesus had no special place. He wasn't learned in the law. In fact Jesus was probably illiterate, and Jesus wasn't a priest. He had no special religious authority. Jesus was simply an ordinary person from a tiny village in Galilee called Nazareth. He had no special authority at all other than authority that came with the integrity of his life and the call he had received from God to proclaim the reign of God. But the Jewish authorities did not accept that, so they challenged him.

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Jesus made a special effort to expose their hypocrisy by asking them the question: "O.K., how about John the Baptist?" Everyone recognized him as a great religious leader. "What do you think about him? Was his message from God or not?" Well, you can see quickly how hypocritical they are. They know very well it was a message from God. John was a great prophet, but if they say that then Jesus can say to them, "Well, why didn't you listen and follow John?" Which they had refused to do in fact. John had been beheaded and put to death by the civil authorities, and there was no protest from the religious leaders at all. And they didn't want to say John wasn't from God, because all the people had recognized John, and they would have an uproar among the people. So they took the easy way out, in a sense I guess, saying, "We don't know." They just refuse to answer the question of Jesus.

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.

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Reflecting on these scriptures and trying to put it into the context of the world in which we live, we have to ask ourselves, where do we stand? Are we with those who stand in judgment over others -- like the scribes and the Pharisees -- or are we willing to challenge authorities, civil or religious, if they are hypocritical, if they say one thing but do another? There are those in our community, our whole church community, who certainly do this. I think of a person who I've mentioned before, a friend of ours, I've known for many years: Fr. Gerard Jean-Juste. He is imprisoned in Haiti right now and has been for a number of weeks with no charge against him except that he spoke up for the poor. He defended the poor. He tried to help the poor to be raised up, to be accepted, to have a fair chance in that society. Because of this, the elite, the powerful have tried to crush him, to destroy him. He's in jail, in a terrible situation. He's willing to speak up, because he identifies with those who are rejected and those who are put aside. He speaks and exposes the hypocrisy of a government that claims to be for all people but is only for the rich, the elite.

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.

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If we listen deeply and carefully to today's scriptures then surely we must begin to have the courage to speak out when necessary against civil and religious authorities. But it is also important to remember that every one of us is a forgiven sinner, so when we speak out we never do it with arrogance or with pride or with a sense of superiority. We do it humbly, but we do it persistently and we do it courageously. Sometimes if we speak up, we may be persecuted in one way or another, either within the church or within civil society. Gerard Jean-Juste is in jail. Perhaps tomorrow Ron Dale and Heather Quaine [parishiners at St. Leo Church] will be in jail, because they are saying "no" to the hypocritical posture of our government. But part of the reason we are praying for them is that they can continue to do this in a very humble, in a very gentle way, a nonviolent way.

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:

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