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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-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
October 6, 2002

Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese
of Detroit, Michigan *

This week's readings **

Isaiah 5:1-7

Let me sing for my well beloved a song of my beloved about his vineyard. My beloved had a vineyard on a very fruitful hill.  He dug it up, gathered out its stones, planted it with the choicest vine, built a tower in its midst, and also cut out a winepress therein. 

He looked for it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes.  "Now, inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah, please judge between me and my vineyard.  What could have been done more to my vineyard, that I have not done in it? Why, when I looked for it to yield grapes, did it yield wild grapes?  Now I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard. I will take away its hedge, and it will be eaten up. I will break down its wall of it, and it will be trampled down. I will lay it a wasteland. It won't be pruned nor hoed, but it will grow briers and thorns. I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain on it." 

For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah his pleasant plant; and he looked for justice, but, behold, oppression; for righteousness, but, behold, a cry of distress. 

Phiippians 4:6-9

Brothers and sisters, have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your thoughts in Christ Jesus.  Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever things are true, whatever things are honorable, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report; if there is any virtue, and if there is any praise, think about these things. The things which you learned, received, heard, and saw in me: do these things, and the God of peace will be with you. 

Matthew  21:33-43

Jesus said to his disciples, "Hear another parable. There was a man who was a master of a household, who planted a vineyard, set a hedge about it, dug a winepress in it, built a tower, leased it out to farmers, and went into another country. When the season for the fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the farmers, to receive his fruit. The farmers took his servants, beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Again, he sent other servants more than the first: and they treated them the same way. But afterward he sent to them his son, saying, 'They will respect my son.'  But the farmers, when they saw the son, said among themselves, 'This is the heir. Come, let's kill him, and seize his inheritance.'  So they took him, and threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him.  When therefore the lord of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those farmers?"  They told him, "He will miserably destroy those miserable men, and will lease out the vineyard to other farmers, who will give him the fruit in its season."  Jesus said to them, "Did you never read in the Scriptures,  'The stone which the builders rejected, the same was made the head of the corner.  This was from the Lord.  It is marvelous in our eyes?'  Therefore I tell you, the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you, and will be given to a nation bringing forth its fruits."

* 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.

We live at a very momentous time. It seems inevitable that our nation is about to go to war. But there is a way we could avoid this war. Saint Paul, 2000 years ago, put it so clearly in writing to the church at Philippi.  He says, ďPut into practice what you have learned from me about Jesus and the love of Jesus.  The God of peace will be with you and you will have a peace that surpasses all understanding.Ē

     So we could have peace, if we really decided to put into practice what Paul taught and what he had learned from Jesus.  Todayís scriptures, if we listen to them carefully, tell us so powerfully about the love of God, the love that came to be fully realized in Jesus, who allowed himself to be tortured and put to death, but then offered that death on the cross as a sign of the covenant of Godís everlasting love for all of us and, also, as a way to bring Godís love and peace into our world.

     All of the scriptures, today, speak about that unlimited and unconditional love of God. 

     In the first lesson today, Isaiah was speaking to the people of his time and he was telling them about Godís love for them. He explained it in what he calls a song.  He says, ďI want to sing for my beloved the love song of my beloved about the vineyard.Ē God loves this vineyard. And Isaiah composes a song that describes how God took such care to make this vineyard, to bring forth beautiful fruit.  God was constant in care for that vineyard. He dug it up, cleared the stones, planted the choicest vines, built a watch tower, hewed out a wine press, and then looked for a crop of good grapes.  

     But the good grapes did not come, only sour grapes, wild grapes. And Isaiah went on to explain that this vineyard is the people of Israel, the people of Judah.  And God wanted so much for that vineyard to bring forth good fruit. But as Isaiah says, ďGod looked for justice, but found violence and bloodshed. God looked for righteousness, but heard cries of distress from the poor.Ē The people of Judah failed to respond to that love of God and so the result was violence, injustice, oppression, killing, death.

     In the Gospel lesson today, Jesus is talking about this same passage from Isaiah when he tells the religious leaders, the priests and the Pharisees, the parable about a vineyard -- itís the same message that Jesus is talking about. At the end of the parable, you hear Matthew say that they understood that Jesus was talking about them, about the house of Israel at that time. 

     God had poured forth such tremendous love on them and that love goes all the way through history, from the time that God first called the people out of Israel and established the covenant with them. God loved them, poured forth love upon them down through the centuries. And Jesus describes it by using the symbol of a vineyard. Only, this time, God sends the prophets to speak to them and to turn them away from violence and injustice and hatred.  But they reject all the prophets. They wonít listen to the message of Godís love. But God doesnít stop loving them. 

     Finally, in the parable, the owner sends his own son.  And, of course, we easily understand that this is Jesus, as Jesus puts it himself in the Gospel.  He reminds them of the stone which the builders rejected has become the keystone. Thatís a very famous Psalm.  The religious leaders understood that that keystone, the cornerstone, was the messiah.  Jesus was saying, ďI am that son that God has sent,Ē because Godís love is unlimited. 

     It was foolish, you would think, that in the parable, after the owner had sent servants twice and they had been stoned and so on, that the owner would have done anything except send his son. But the owner, symbolizing God, isnít logical. Symbolizing God, the owner has unlimited love and is willing to give up even his son as he tries to show that God never stops loving.

     Now what if we were to understand, as we should, that now we, who are the church, we are that vineyard, we are the house of Israel, we are the house of Judah, that God through Jesus and through the gospels has sent us the message of unlimited love, of unconditional love, absolute goodness being poured forth upon us who are the church.

     We canít listen to these passages and just think that they refer to thousands of years ago.  No, God is speaking to us now, giving us the same message that Isaiah proclaimed, the same message that Jesus proclaimed when he was here. Itís the same message -- God is offering love to us, unlimited, unconditional love -- and is asking us to respond to that love by becoming loving people.

     God looks for justice. God looks for righteousness. Will God find it now or will God find violence and bloodshed and killing?

     You see, when we donít respond to the love of God, when we donít take it in and let that love of God transform us and make us into fully loving people, when we spurn the love of God, then our humanness unravels. The whole situation keeps getting worse and worse and we turn to violence, we turn to bloodshed.  Just at the people of Israel did. Just as those scribes and Pharisees did when they decided now we will have to kill him. If we donít respond to Godís love, there will be violence, bloodshed and injustice. 

     When I think about the threat to go to war, I realize that we really are rejecting the way of God. I have to think about what this is going to do to us and also, not to President Hussein, but the people of Iraq who will experience the violence that we will pour forth upon them.  It was proclaimed so well by one of our military heroís, Senator John McCain, who, during the Vietnam War, bombed the city of Hanoi many times until his plane was shot down.  He was terribly injured and then was tortured and spent 7 years in prison.  He survived and was released and is a hero for us.  But remember what he said about himself.  He said, ďI hated the people of Vietnam, even before they took me captive.  I hated them, because it was my hatred that enabled me to be devoted to their complete destruction. I hated them so that I could destroy them.  Otherwise, I could never have continued to do what my human instincts wanted me to do, and turn away in disgust.Ē  So he had to destroy his humanness by hating them.

     And thatís what we will have to do.  If weíre going to kill, weíre going to have to learn to hate. It wonít just destroy others; it will destroy us as well.  When you hate, you spurn the love of God, you spurn this unconditional, unlimited love that God pours forth upon us and you destroy yourself by rejecting Godís love and turning to hate. 

     What a tragedy that we would do that to ourselves.  

     For the past couple of weeks, an image keeps coming back to me from one of my visits to Iraq.  I know I told you this before, but it keeps coming back to me, so I have to speak about it again.  At the time, I was in Baghdad, and was visiting at a seniors home, where these were poor people who were kept in a home by the government.  During the time of the sanctions, the elderly are very vulnerable, as are the tiny children.  And these people were suffering, but they were getting some care at least.  But after we left that place, we were walking back out in the street and a crowd of people came toward us.  Leading the crowd was a little boy with his grandmother.  They came up to speak to us.  And I looked in the face of the little boy.  He looked to be about 8 years old and I found out later that he was 11, but he was so malnourished that he was only about the size of an 8 year old kid.  But I looked at his face and the whole right side of his faced had been ripped off and it was one big scar and he was blind in the other eye.   He told us what had happened when he was 3 years old.  A bomb had hit near his home where he and a playmate were playing.  The other little youngster was killed immediately, but he was so badly injured.  And his reason for coming to meet us was simply to tell us, ďPlease go back to the United States and tell your government to stop killing us.Ē

     But we havenít stopped killing them and now weíre going to kill them with our bombs again. It will be far worse than the last time, when we bombed for 42 days and 42 nights, 24 hours every day with 88,500 tons of bombs. Now, it will be even worse.  We will be killing, not just the people of Iraq, but, in an abstract way, we will be killing little children like that boy who came and pleaded, ďStop killing us.Ē

     Isnítí it necessary for us to listen deeply to todayís scriptures where God is telling us about Godís unlimited love for us and how God wants us to respond to that love by learning to love others and to reject hatred, to reject violence, to reject killing.  Jesus, by giving himself over to death in that total act of love for us, transforms hatred into love and enemies into friends.  We could do the same thing, if we rejected violence, rejected killing and, instead, reached out to the people of Iraq as brothers and sisters in Godís human family; if we really made an effort to negotiate rather than just give ultimatums that say, ďTake or leave it;Ē if we really respected them as people and we were willing to share the oil that they have, not just to hoard it for ourselves or to make it all for us, but to allow everybody in the world to have access to that oil in a fair and just way.

     If we really reached out in love, we could end this crisis quickly.  Thatís what Saint Paul is telling us, ďPut into practice what you have learned from me, what I passed on to you, the message of Godís love, the message of Jesus.  Then, the God of peace will be with you and that God of peace through us will bring peace into our world.Ē 

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


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