The Peace 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 Sunday in Ordinary Time
September 26, 2004

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

This week's readings **

Amos 6:1a, 4-7
Woe to those who are at ease in Zion and to those who feel secure in the mountain of Samaria, The distinguished men of the foremost of nations, to whom the house of Israel comes. Those who recline on beds of ivory and sprawl on their couches, and eat lambs from the flock and calves from the midst of the stall, who improvise to the sound of the harp, and like David have composed songs for themselves, who drink wine from sacrificial bowls while they anoint themselves with the finest of oils, yet they have not grieved over the ruin of Joseph. Therefore, they will now go into exile at the head of the exiles, and the sprawlers' banqueting will pass away.

1 Timothy 6:11-16
But flee from these things, you man of God, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called, and you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who testified the good confession before Pontius Pilate, that you keep the commandment without stain or reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which He will bring about at the proper time--He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see. To Him be honor and eternal dominion! Amen.

Luke 16:19-31
"Now there was a rich man, and he habitually dressed in purple and fine linen, joyously living in splendor every day. And a poor man named Lazarus was laid at his gate, covered with sores, and longing to be fed with the crumbs which were falling from the rich man's table; besides, even the dogs were coming and licking his sores. Now the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham's bosom; and the rich man also died and was buried. In Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried out and said, 'Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus so that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue, for I am in agony in this flame.' But Abraham said, 'Child, remember that during your life you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus bad things; but now he is being comforted here, and you are in agony. 'And besides all this, between us and you there is a great chasm fixed, so that those who wish to come over from here to you will not be able, and that none may cross over from there to us.' "And he said, 'Then I beg you, father, that you send him to my father's house--for I have five brothers--in order that he may warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.' But Abraham said, 'They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.' But he said, 'No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent!' But he said to him, 'If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.'"

* 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).

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

Earlier this week I read an article that contained this sentence: "The modern global village that could have made everyone in the world friends has instead brought international terrorism into our lives." That is a very stark, frightening reality and something that obviously disappoints us very deeply.

It is true, we have a global village. Communications are instantaneous almost anywhere in the world; people communicate with one another across time zones, across continents. Travel is so easy; people are in the United States one day, in Europe the next day, back here the day after. We are totally united around the world. We should be one human family. With all that we have developed with our technology and with all the accomplishments we have in this modern age, we could have expected this global village to be a village of friends, but instead we face terrorism at any moment.

Also this week I received in the mail this small booklet. It says: "Today you are one of more than 25,000 heads of state, ministers of religion, members of Parliament, monarchs, religious leaders, captains of industry, journalists and other influential people of 191 countries who hold this printed glimpse of our world."

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The booklet shows vivid pictures of people from all over this world, this global village. The vast majority of them are shown in extreme situations of poverty, neglect and need. Then the booklet says, "For the first time in history we have the means to end poverty."

Then in bold letters it says, "Today it's in your hands."

It is in my hands and your hands. This global village really could become one human family where we love one another, care about one another and do not have to live in constant fear of terrorist attacks. Today's scripture lessons are very dramatic and powerful in instructing us in how that might happen, but we have to listen to those scriptures carefully.

Amos described a situation of extraordinarily evil: "Woe to those proud people who live overconfident on the hill of Samaria, living in riches and luxury. You lie in a bed inlaid with ivory and sprawl on your couches. You eat lamb from the flock and veal from the calves fattened in the stall. Especially fattened, not on range grass, but on the best wheat. You strum on your harps, and like David, try out new musical instruments for entertainment. You drink wine by the bowlful and anoint yourselves with finest oil. Living in luxury and wealth, you do not grieve over Josephs" -- a name for the chosen people, the people of Israel.

Amos is describing a situation where a few are very rich, and they don't care about the rest who are desperately poor. And the rich are the religious and civil leaders of the day. They are rich, and they defame the poor, neglect them and ignore them. I'm afraid this is very like the society in which we live.

A couple weeks ago, I read an article in the paper about a catalog that is sent to a million households in the United States. It's just arriving in these households now. It's a catalog for toys, items like a $9,000 rocking zebra, a $15,000 child-size, gasoline-powered, two-seater Mercedes, a $12,000 tree house, starter jewelry including a $950 bracelet, and (they put this in French) la petit maison, play houses for $30,000 and up depending on size, design and what "the professional children's interior decorator" weighs in with.

The catalog says, "When the children are used to living well, they should play like this."

Now that's astounding. But that same week another article appeared that said that in this past year the number of people in poverty here in the United States has gone up. Among the developed countries in the world, we're the richest, but we have the highest proportion of children in poverty of any of those developed countries.

The gap between the rich and poor is huge. Many of us are in between, but perhaps benefiting far more than we like to admit from the system. And if you compare our nation with the rest of our world, the gap is even more dramatic.

Amos deplored this gap, denounced it. He wanted us to know that it was and is wrong, and it is not what God intends. We will never have a human family, even within a global village, as long as there is a tremendous gap between those who have and those who have not.

Jesus presents the same message in the Gospel. Today's is a very powerful parable. I'm sure we're all familiar with it. We've heard it many times. Even in the telling of the parable Jesus gives us direction about how we are to respond to this situation of injustice. In the parable, Jesus made a point of giving a name to the poor person. His name was Lazarus. He didn't give the rich person a name. That was a reversal of custom.

Generally, the rich are known, aren't they? Even today in our country we publish lists of names, such as the 400 richest people in America. Get your name on that list and you are somebody.

For most of us, the poor don't have names. That's the way it is in the world. What if we began -- this is a crazy idea, I'm sure -- what if we began to print a list of the poorest people in our country so that we would all know who the poor are? It might lead us to try to find out why they are poor. We might better understand their struggles if we learn their names and make them real people. To learn their names, one would really have to get to know them, which would mean living among them, letting them become our brothers and sisters. That is what Jesus did; he reversed the general pattern.

Jesus did something else in that parable. He said that after Lazarus died, he ended up in the bosom of Abraham. That was known as a very special place of honor. Remember the story of the Last Supper in John's Gospel; the beloved disciple had the place of honor, reclining on the breast of Jesus, the bosom.

Jesus tells us, "Give the poor a place of honor in your midst. Don't shun them or push them away. Give them a place of honor."

I have mentioned this before, but I just got the invitation again to the St. Vincent de Paul conference for metro Detroit, their annual dinner. A table of six costs over $1,200. How many poor people do you think will be sitting at that table? Or any of those tables? Wouldn't it be something if we who belong to a group like the St. Vincent de Paul Society -- we who say we are assisting the poor -- if we invited them to the dinner, if every table were half poor people and half rich people? That way, we would get to know one another. But we don't even think about that. Oh, we'll hand our money over to the poor in some way; we just don't want to be too close to them. But Jesus said, "Give them a place of honor." Jesus is intent on teaching us this lesson. I should mention that this parable comes at the end of a long teaching in Luke's Gospel. It starts in Chapter 12, where the first sentence is "Beware of greed in every form. Beware of greed, riches. They will lead you away from God." This parable, then, concludes this whole passage where Jesus is trying to teach us how to avoid the dangers that come with riches. Jesus did not condemn wealth. He did not say that wealth is evil in itself and because you have enough that you're guilty of sin. What he said was that wealth can take us away from God. There is a danger in riches, that's the warning. And the only way to overcome that danger is by sharing what we have. Only by sharing.

I've told this story before, but it's so powerful I will tell it again. Mother Teresa was walking with a visitor taking supplies of rice to the poorest of the poor families in Calcutta. They went into a home where there was a mother with two or three children. They poured rice into the family's rice container. The mother took it and poured half into another container. They asked her why. She said, "Well there's a neighbor family and they are without food also, so I am sharing half of my rice with them." They left the home and the visitor asked Mother Teresa, "Why didn't you give her a double portion? There is plenty. You could have given her a double portion for the neighbor." Mother Teresa said, "No, I would not deprive her of the blessing of sharing." That is such an important lesson. The blessing of sharing. We need to share what we have in abundance.

If you look in today's bulletin, you will see that we are asking you to share. We are trying to fill a container with supplies to send to Haiti. We ought to be overflowing with gifts for that. Not just from our abundance, but even from our need.

Haiti is only one place, of course. There are so many ways in which we can and we must try to receive the blessing of sharing. It is the first thing we must do if we're going to avoid the danger of wealth -- if we're going to avoid being overwhelmed by the wealth all around us in this country and the whole culture of wealth that tries to lead us to desire more and more. We must seek the blessing of sharing.

There is one other thing that we have to do if we are going to make our world into a global village that becomes a human family. We have to heed a warning given to us by Pope John Paul II. When he visited North America in 1987, he spoke about the problems of the riches of this continent in Canada and the United States. He preached on the 25th chapter of Matthew's Gospel. That is the Gospel where Jesus said, "When I was hungry you gave me to eat," and so on.

John Paul said, "In the light of Christ's words, the poor South [most of the poor nations are in the southern hemisphere] will judge the rich North and the poor people and poor nations will rise up in judgment against those people who take these goods away from them, amassing to themselves the imperialistic monopoly of economic and political supremacy at the expense of others."

Now that is a harsh judgment on all of us. John Paul is saying that we have taken away from the poor what they have a right to use. Those are words that most of us don't like to hear. Most of us people in this country would be angry at these words. He said the United States is an imperialistic monopoly, and we're robbing the poor. That may make people angry, but it is true. If you don't believe it's true, listen to this. It shows clearly the connection between terrorism and extreme poverty. A few days ago the paper carried this editorial:

The beleaguered Philippine island of Mindanao is crawling with communists and Islamic fundamentalist guerillas. The link between al-Qaeda and local insurgents has made the island a battlefield in President Bush's war on terrorism. There is talk of sending in U.S. troops. But for the farmers on Mindanao, home to more than two-thirds of the Philippine corn production, subsidized U.S. imports loom as large as any other threat. U.S. corn growers have received an astonishing $34.5 billion in taxpayer support. This helps explain how the U.S. is able to export -- the less polite word in the lexicon of trade would be dump -- corn at only two-thirds its cost of production.

So we undersell the poor farmers of Mindanao. They can't make any money from their corn. They are forced from the land poor and hungry.

The resentment is intense. "The common view here is that the United States, our former colonial master, is a destructive force," said the chairman of the Alliance of Farmers in the Mindanao province. The global economy is supposed to change the world of people like these who live with children in a one- or two-room shack on the edge of massive plantations in this area. But these families are lucky if they clear the equivalent of $1 a day.

We get richer; they get poorer. These are what are known as the structures of violence, the structures of injustice. We have to try to overcome that also. Besides sharing what we have, we also have to try to change the system. That is why there is another important article in today's bulletin: "Have you registered to vote? Are you going to vote on the basis of what will be good for the poor of this world and not just good for ourselves?"

That is what we have to think about as we reflect on today's scriptures. Jesus' warning is very real. Wealth is dangerous for those of us who are wealthy; meanwhile, the vast majority of the people of the world are poor.

To bring change, we have to share what we have, but we also have to change the systems that are unjust, that make the rich richer and the poor poorer. If we took our responsibilities seriously, then the promise of this booklet could be realized: "For the first time in history we have the means to end poverty." And today it is in our hands.

If we listen to Jesus and the scriptures, we can make our world a true global village where we will all be friends and brothers and sisters.

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

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