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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-Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
September 29, 2002

Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese
of Detroit, Michigan *

This week's readings **

Ezekiel 18:25-28

Thus says the LORD: You say, "The LORD's way is not fair!" Hear now, house of Israel: Is it my way that is unfair, or rather, are not your ways unfair? When someone virtuous turns away from virtue to commit iniquity, and dies, it is because of the iniquity he committed that he must die. But if he turns from the wickedness he has committed, he does what is right and just, he shall preserve his life; since he has turned away from all the sins that he has committed, he shall surely live, he shall not die. 

Phiippians 2:1-11

Brothers and sisters, if there is therefore any exhortation in Christ, if any consolation of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any tender mercies and compassion, make my joy full, by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind; doing nothing through rivalry or through conceit, but in humility, each counting others better than himself; each of you not just looking to his own things, but each of you also to the things of others. 

Have this in your mind, which was also in Christ Jesus, who, existing in the form of God, didn't consider it robbery to be equal with God, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, yes, the death of the cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him, and gave to him the name which is above every name; that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, those on earth, and those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. 

Matthew  21:28-32

Jesus said to the chief priests and elders of the people, "But what do you think? A man had two sons, and he came to the first, and said, 'Son, go work today in my vineyard.' He answered, 'I will not,' but afterward he changed his mind, and went. He came to the second, and said the same thing. He answered, 'I go, sir,' but he didn't go. Which of the two did the will of his father?"  They said to him, "The first."  Jesus said to them, "Most assuredly I tell you that the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering into the Kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you didn't believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. When you saw it, you didn't even repent afterward, that you might believe him."

* 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.

For the last few Sundays we have been following Jesus on his journey to Jerusalem.  And along the way he has been teaching the disciples and us various things.

     We almost have to smile when we listen to how Jesus interacts with the religious teachers--the authorities of the temple--when they are challenging him. “Why did you do those things?”  Just before that, Jesus had driven out the money changers and those who were exploiting the poor. Jesus so easily traps them.

     But as we listen to this and probe the meaning of today’s scriptures, it’s not really something to smile about. Jesus is teaching us something very, very important. Basically it comes down to this. It’s not much good to go through the motions of being religious, of worshiping God or saying I’m a follower of Jesus, if you don’t act on it.

     The parable is so simple, isn’t it? The father says to the two boys, “Go into my vineyard and work.” And one says, “I won’t do it,” but later repents.  And the other says, “I’ll go,” and puts on a good appearance, but doesn’t do it.

     And Jesus made a special point to those religious leaders, “You knew John was a prophet and yet you won’t proclaim it and you wouldn’t follow him.”  The sinners, the people they look down upon, tax collectors, publicans, prostitutes, they went to John and they repented.  They said, "No," to God, but then they thought it through and they changed.  These religious leaders supposedly had said, "Yes," to God, but they refused to change, they refused to do penance, to follow John, and then subsequently to follow Jesus.

     And as we listen to that parable, I think it’s important to notice how it is told by Jesus.  It’s very short and very simple. But he tells about the two boys, one that went and the other that didn’t. And you might wonder, “What will the father do now?  What happened to the boy who lied?”  But Jesus doesn’t go any further in the story.  He simply asks a question, “Which of them did the will of the father?”  And those words are very important for Jesus.  Throughout his life, it was always his goal to do the will of the father, of God.  He told his disciples one time when they were concerned that he hadn’t had anything to eat he said, “My food is to do the will of the one who sent me.”

     At the end of the Sermon on the Mount, after he had laid out his teaching about how we transform the world, he pointed out, “Not everyone who says to me Lord, Lord, will enter the reign of God, but those who do the will of God.”

     In his own life, he struggled to be able to do God’s will. You remember that at the beginning of his public life he was in the desert being tempted. And at the first temptation, when the devil wanted him to change stones into bread he says, “No, I won’t do that just to put on a display, to be a wonderworker.  It’s more important to nourish yourself not just with bread, but with every word that comes from the mouth of God.”  It’s more important to the will of the father.

     In John’s gospel, in the twelfth chapter, we have an incident where Jesus is thinking about his death and the horror that that will be; the suffering, the degradation, the rejection that all of that is.  And he says, “Will I ask God to take this away from me?”  He is in great anguish, but then he says, “No, I’ve come to do the will of God.”  This is why I have come, so therefore I will accept it.

     We’re more accustomed to think of that struggle of Jesus to do the will of the Father when we meditate on the agony in the garden when Jesus prayed, “Father, take this chalice away from me.” But then, “Not my will, but your will be done.”

     So it was a struggle throughout the life of Jesus always to follow faithfully, totally, the will of the father.  And, of course, that is what Jesus asks of us, “Will you do the will of the father? Will you go out symbolically into the vineyard, into the world, and do God’s will? Or will you only say that you will and not do it?” That is what the parable suggests to us; that very often we might say it, but then not do it.

     To do the will of God is of course very challenging. In the second lesson today, where St. Paul, writing to his favorite community, really urging them to become a Christian community which fully reflects the way of Jesus, says to them, “Have this mind in you which was in Christ Jesus.” Have the mind, the thinking, the attitude, the heart, the whole way of Jesus.  And then he describes what that means.  We have to listen to that.  “Who, though he was God, he did not deem equality with God something to be clung to; but he emptied himself, became fully human, one like us in every way except sin.”  And he allowed himself to be tortured and put to death in order to manifest the extraordinary, unconditional, unlimited love of God. 

     We say in our Eucharist prayer:  Before Jesus gave himself over to death, before he stretched out his arms in the sign of that covenant of God’s love, he celebrated the last supper with his disciples.  But Jesus’ death was this extraordinary manifestation of God’s unlimited love, of God’s total forgiveness.

     Jesus emptied himself, entered into death, even the ignominious death of the cross, in order to show us the will of the father.  The will of the father -- that love changes everything, that love can transform our world.  That’s what Jesus was teaching us by emptying himself, making himself one with the poorest not with the most powerful; one with those who love and not with those who hate; one with those who are ready to let themselves be a sign of God’s goodness and God’s love for every person.

     Have this mind in you which was in Christ Jesus.  That’s what it means to do the will of the father.

     And are we ready to really do it or are we only prepared to say that we will do it? 

     That’s the really important question today and it’s a question that faces us within the context of what is happening in our nation and in our world.  We say that we’re a religious country.  In fact, more than 80 percent of the people in the United States say they are Christian and that they are ready to follow the way of Jesus.  But then, in fact, we have to ask ourselves, “Are these only words or will we do it?”  It’s not enough to say, “Lord, lord.” That won’t do it. You have to do the will of the father, carry it out. 

     We need to reflect on the current circumstances where our leaders in this country are taking us into war.  It’s a war that almost every religious body, every religious teaching authority, have said, “This is not a morally acceptable war.”  There have been statements from the Episcopal leadership, the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the Orthodox Church, the Roman Catholic bishops.  Every religious group almost without exception has said, “This war could not be justified.  If any war could be, this one could not be.”  And yet our president moves us forward to war.

     Now if we are going to do the will of God, do the will of the Father, and if it’s so clear that this war is wrong, will we stand up and say, “No,” or will we just go along?  Will we try with every ounce of energy we have to stop what is happening, or will we just float along and let it happen?   I think that’s really the challenge to all of us today: Are we just saying we’re Christian or are we going to be followers of Jesus and act on what that means to be a follower of Jesus, who refused to use power and might and so on to change the world.  He taught us that it was only through love that you can change the world.

     It’s a hard teaching that Jesus gives to us and we have to be very careful that we don’t say, “Yes, I’ll be a Christian,” and then not be. Yes, perhaps we have failed in the past, but now is the time to say, “I will go into the field, into the vineyard and do it.”

     And one final word that perhaps today’s lessons direct toward us is to remember from the first lesson that God expects each of us to be responsible for the decisions that we make. It’s not just a collective thing. We can’t say, “Because my nation is going to war, I have to be supportive. It’s my nation.  I have to be part of it.”  No, God is saying in that passage from Ezekiel, “Each one of us must be accountable before God for the decision I make.”  Today the question is:  Will we make the decision to follow Jesus, not just to be a Christian in name, but in fact and to follow his way and reject the ways of war, the way of violence.  Each of us will be accountable before God for the decisions that I make at this time.  That is something to pray over, and to ask God for the strength and the courage to follow the way of Jesus, faithfully, always.

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


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