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 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.)
29th Sunday in Ordinary Time
October 19, 2003

Thomas J. Gumbleton

Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese
of Detroit, Michigan *

This week's readings **

Isaiah 53:10-11
The Lord was pleased to crush him in infirmity. If he gives his life as an offering for sin, he shall see his descendants in a long life, and the will of the Lord shall be accomplished through him. Because of his affliction he shall see the light in fullness of days; through his suffering, my servant shall justify many, and their guilt he shall bear.


Hebrews 4:14-16
Brothers and sisters: Since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin. So let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help.


Mark 10:35-45
James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Jesus and said to him, "Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you." He replied, "What do you wish me to do for you?" They answered him, "Grant that in your glory we may sit one at your right and the other at your left." Jesus said to them, "You do not know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup that I drink or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?" They said to him, "We can." Jesus said to them, "The cup that I drink, you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right or at my left is not mine to give but is for those for whom it has been prepared." When the ten heard this, they became indignant at James and John. Jesus summoned them and said to them, "You know that those who are recognized as rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all. For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many."


* 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.

Our gospel message today is very hard to hear and take seriously. I presume every one of us thought, "Yeah, I heard that gospel all right, and I can go with it." But I wonder. Have we really thought out what this means? Listen carefully to what Jesus is saying to those who choose to follow him.

This gospel is one of those where Jesus proclaims one of the extraordinary reversals that are common in the gospels -- reversals of our ordinary way of thinking. Most of us think, for example, rich people are blessed. Jesus says, "No, the poor are blessed." Or, people admire wisdom. Jesus says, "God's foolishness is wiser than human wisdom." Or Jesus talks about death and says, "If you try to save your life, you will lose it. If you lose your life, you will save it."

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Today, Jesus reverses the way we usually think about where is the best place to be. It's best to be on top, to be the rulers, right? Jesus says, "No, you must be servants and slaves." James and John obviously did not hear Jesus saying this because they approached Jesus and asked for the top spots in his kingdom -- one at Jesus' right hand and one at Jesus' left. Jesus tried to warn them: "You don't even know what you are asking for. If you are going to be at my side, if you are going to follow me closely, you have to drink from the cup that I drink from. You also have to be ready to be treated the way I will be treated -- rejected, tortured and made to suffer."

The first lesson today reminds us that Jesus was very aware of what was to happen to him. He was crushed for our wickedness. He was harshly treated. Like a lamb he was led to the slaughter, taken away to detention and judgment. He was cut off from the land of the living. They made his tomb with the wicked.

If you remember our meditations on the death of Jesus, recall that in the course of his suffering, Jesus got to the point that he felt crushed with grief. It was as though, Jesus felt, God was punishing him. He felt so crushed, so rejected, he cried out: "My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?" He hadn't really been abandoned, but he felt as though God had left him. That is the extremity of his suffering and death. That was the cup of suffering that Jesus said his followers must accept. His followers, he said, must be baptized into that kind of a death. "If you want to follow me, then that's where you will be with me," he said.

It wasn't only James and John who didn't understand what Jesus was saying, however. The other disciples evidently didn't hear him either, because they were angry with James and John. "How do you dare go and ask for the top places, put yourselves in front of the rest of us?" they said. So Jesus got them all together and said: "Now look! Here's what it is like in my kingdom, in the reign of God. Among the gentiles, those who are not believing people, the rulers are tyrants. They lord it over the others, they oppress them. Among you, it cannot be that way, if you are going to be my followers. In the community of the disciples of Jesus there cannot be domination and oppression, someone ruling over others. If you want to be a leader, then be the servant of all." Jesus pushes it even further and says, "Be the slave for everyone else."

The one who is the lowest becomes the highest. The one who is the slave becomes the leader of all by pouring forth love as Jesus did. If we really let that sink in, we might wonder about being among the disciples of Jesus.

Throughout the history of the church, the community of the disciples of Jesus, we haven't always been faithful to this very clear teaching. This means the whole church, because the whole church is called to be a servant church, all of us. But those who are ordained leaders in the church are expected even more to show forth this understanding of being a servant, not being a ruler, dominating, lording it over others.

Sometimes people ask me what is the proper way to address a bishop. I am embarrassed to say, the technical title is "Your Excellency." Now would you think of a servant being called Your Excellency? Or Your Eminence? We take to ourselves titles like we are ruling over others. It is a complete distortion of what leadership in the church is supposed to be.

Just this week, I read an article about what is going on in Rome with Pope John Paul's 25th anniversary. The cardinals are all gathered together, and the article says:

Arrayed around him will be the often ambitious, sometimes fractious members of his inner circle. That group is taking on greater importance as the 83-year old pope becomes sicker and frailer. Hence the loud chatter around the Vatican during the past month that there may soon be a new Secretary of State, a man who ranks second only to the pope.

At first, or so the buzz had it, Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, the head of the Congregation for Bishops, was the front-runner. Then Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe, head of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, made his own bid, according to several Vatican officials.

What's going on? They are all looking to see who is going to get the top spot. This is the very thing Jesus condemns in the gospel. That's not the way the church is supposed to be.

Thank God we have examples of bishops who are different. One whom I think of often as a supreme example of being a servant leader, of course, is Oscar Romero, late Archbishop of San Salvador. I remember what he said two weeks before he was killed. The words come back to me now because they so clearly say what a bishop really should be, a leader of the church. He was ready to pour out his life, even to be killed. It was under threat of death that he said these words:

As a shepherd, I am obliged by divine mandate to give my life for those I love, that is, for those who may be going to kill me.

He was such a servant. According to the model of Jesus, he was ready to give his life to all those he loved, especially to the ones who hated him and were going to kill him. That's what the model of service in the church should be. Again, thank God for bishops like him, and he is not the only one. Leaders of the church who are willing to pour forth their life and their love just as Jesus did.

That's what our whole church should be -- not just the bishops and priests, but all of us. We have to be a servant church, not lording it over anyone else, but respecting and loving and pouring forth love upon those who are marginalized in our society.

That's why it is a blessing for us as we invite guests here every day and we give them a meal [to the parish soup kitchen]. That's a blessing for us especially if we respect them and cherish them as our guests. That's how we become a servant church.

We can also be called to service in our immediate families. I am aware of this because I was talking to one of our parishioners, and I know she will be embarrassed if I say this, but it is such a beautiful example of how you become a servant of others -- and this is in our own family. She works full-time as a teacher, but she starts her day at 4 a.m. She gets up then to prepare her mother for dialysis. She has to arrange with someone to take her mother home. After she teaches all day, she goes home and continues to care for her mother and for the other members of her family. That's real service. It can happen right within our families. But sometimes it doesn't.

I heard about Jennifer Granholm, our governor, going around the state preparing people for the budget cuts that are going to come. One of the places she suggested we might have to make cuts would be in the part of the budget where the state pays people to take care of their family members in their homes. It's a very good program. When there is a real need for that kind of support and help, surely the community ought to reach out and help. But it is almost to the point where we expect the state to step in and take care of our family members, instead of saying, "We're the servants. We have to serve one another within our families, within our parish community."

One of our members just had her furnace go out. She has a house without heat. She is staying with her daughter right now, but we need to help her get that heat back on in her home, to be a servant within our community.

That's what Jesus is telling us today. That we must be a servant church, and there must be no limit to how much love we pour forth upon one another within our parish family, within our personal family, but also within the family of all people. We have to be a church that serves the world.

We need that kind of leadership. We need it from our bishops. We need it from ourselves.

I want to share with you a prayer that we can make our own. It's some words Karl Rahner, a great theologian and Jesuit priest, put together:

I shall pray for the church, my God, each day during the celebration of the Eucharist. My faith can only survive in the community of those who together form the holy Church of Jesus Christ. And therefore it is essential to my own salvation that she be the very home and foundation of my faith …

I do not consider myself to be any better than others in the Church. I know that I am anything but a sterling argument for the origin of the church in the mercy of God's will …

But how tiresome, feeble-minded, short-sighted and tyrannical "office-holders" in this church appear to me to be at times, solely concerned with the reputation of the organization and, in the worst sense, conservative and clerical. And when they unctuously and irritatingly display their noble intentions and their selflessness, it becomes even more annoying because I only too rarely hear them publicly and audibly confess their errors and mistaken judgments…

Three hundred years ago we burned witches, and a sorry thing it would have been had one ever doubted that witches did exist. Today this wholesale madness no longer exists, yet do we know for certain that other forms of madness are not still afoot among those who naively conform in the church?

God, have mercy on us poor, short-sighted and foolish sinners, we who form the body of your church. Have mercy upon those who call themselves your representatives. Have mercy upon all of us!

Let us become the community of disciples you call us to be -- servants and even slaves to all others. In this way we pray your reign will break forth in our world.

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

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