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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 will be made available through to the remainder of this year. This service is an NCR website 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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 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time
October 21, 2001 

Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese
of Detroit, Michigan *


This week's readings **

Exodus 17:8-13

Amalek came and fought with Israel.  And Moses said unto Joshua, "Choose us certain men, and tomorrow go out and fight with Amalek.  I will be standing on the top of the hill with the rod of God in my hand."  So Joshua did as Moses had said to him and fought with Amalek while Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill.  And it came to pass, that when Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed; and when he let down his hand, Amalek prevailed. But Moses' hands were heavy.  Thus they took a stone, and put it under him for which to sit.  Meanwhile, Aaron and Hur supported his hands, the one on the one side, and the other on the other side.  And his hands were steady until the going down of the sun.  And Joshua mowed down Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword.
 

2 Timothy 3:14- 4:2

Remain faithful in the things which you have learned and have been assured of, knowing of whom you have learned them.  And that from a babe you have known the sacred writings which are able to make you wise unto salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.  All scripture is inspired by God and is also useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness.  That the one of God may be complete, furnished completely unto every good work. 

I  charge thee in the sight of God, and of Christ Jesus, who shall judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be urgent in season or out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching.
 

Luke 18:1- 8

And he spoke a parable to them that they ought always to pray, and not to become weary; saying, "There was in a city a judge, who feared not God, and regarded not man.  And there was a widow in that city; and she came often unto him, saying, 'Avenge me of my adversary.'  And he would not for a while.  But afterward he said within himself, 'Though I fear not God, nor regard man; yet because this widow troubleth me, I will avenge her, lest she wear me out by her
continual coming.'" And the Lord said, "Hear what the unrighteous judge says.  And shall not God avenge his chosen that cry to him day and night? Will God be slow to anwere them? I say to you, that he will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man cometh, will he find faith on the earth? 
 
 

* 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 againsst Iraq.

He has appeared on numerous radio and television programs, and has published numerous articles and reports.
 
 

** Scripture texts in this work are taken 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).
http://www.nccbuscc.org/nab/index.htm

 

And now, for a few moments, we will try to follow what Timothy urges upon us today and deeply listen to Godís Word, the Word inspired by Godís Holy Spirit.  And, of course, the first thing we notice about the Word of God today is how it concerns prayer -- perseverance in prayer, constancy in prayer and trust in God as we pray.

     In the gospel lesson, Jesus, at the very beginning of the parable or just before he starts the parable, says, ďI want you to learn about how you must pray with perseverance.Ē So heís almost guiding us on how to interpret this parable. But then, at the end of the lesson, Jesus switches the application and draws our attention to the judge and how the judge acts in this situation.  Jesus says, ďBut how different is God than that human judge?Ē 

     And itís this that I think might be especially helpful for us to reflect on today.  Listening to that parable, not just as a lesson about how we must pray with persistence, coming back again and again and pleading with God, but listening to the parable as a parable about God and Godís justice.  And, of course, the justice of God is so different from the kind of justice that that judge in the parable was meting out.  He said about himself, ďI really donít care about God, I donít care about people.Ē  Very arrogantly, he says, ďI will do what I want.Ē Clearly, thatís not Godís justice.  But even beyond that, Godís justice is still different from human justice.  Even if you had a judge who was not so arrogant, who was willing to listen to the pleas of those who came, even then we would discover that Godís justice is different.  And this is what Jesus wants us to understand today. That Godís justice is about reaching out to the poor, lifting up the poor, making sure the poor are the ones who benefit from all the good things that God has given to us in human creation or in Godís creation. 

     This becomes clear if we understand how that widow, in the terminology of Jesus or the examples of Jesus, is a symbol of the most vulnerable, the weakest people in society.  In the time of Jesus, women and children had no rights really. And, certainly, a widow, a woman without a husband, was totally vulnerable.  She had no rights, no recourse anywhere.  And what Jesus wants us to realize is that it is especially for people like this widow, the vulnerable, the weak, the poor, where Godís justice is going to be applied most of all.  God will lift up the poor, change the situation of the poor, give them the rights that have been denied them so regularly. 

     And, so, as we try to listen to this parable, I suggest that instead of doing what, I think, most of the time we would do when we listen to the parable and put ourselves into it, we put ourselves into the situation of thinking of ourselves like the woman pleading and praying constantly and ask ourselves, ďDo we pray like that?í

     Thatís a good way to think about the parable.  But, today, instead, think about the parable as in putting ourselves in the place of the judge. What kind of a judge would we be?  Would we be a judge who is concerned simply about human justice with all of its limitations?  Or would we be the kind of a judge who would reach beyond human justice and be concerned about the poor, the weak, the vulnerable? 

     And itís so important for us to do this because, at the end of the parable, Jesus asks the question that might seem very strange.  He says, ďWhen the Son of Man returns, speaking about himself, will he find faith, honor?Ē  He is speaking especially about whether he will find among his disciples and followers the kind of faith that would prompt them to try to live with the justice of God.  That they would be people who believed in Godís justice and were ready to act upon it.  Any situation where there are weak, poor and vulnerable people, would his followers have the faith to act according to Godís justice. 

     And there are lots and lots of ways in which we could begin to situate ourselves within that parable as the judge, thinking about people who are vulnerable, who are coming to us, and whether we would act for them with Godís justice.

     The first situation that comes to mind today is the country of Haiti.  It so fills up my whole heart.  Iíve just come back from Haiti, as you know, together with three other people from our community.  We spent Monday to Friday in Haiti.  And there we saw again, as you know from those of you who have gone before who were in a delegation or from what you have heard about Haiti, the worst poverty you can ever imagine.  This is the poorest country in our hemisphere.  Here you have people truly symbolized by that widow, people without rights.  They have rights as human beings, but these rights are not recognized.  They are people who are totally vulnerable, people who are desperately and absolutely poor.

     They need Godís justice. They need people who have enough confidence in Godís way of justice and will reach out to these poor vulnerable people and try to find a way by which they can be lifted up.  That their lives can be transformed and changed and that they can enjoy the blessings of this world that God has given for all and not for a few. 

     What is happening to the poor of Haiti seems almost unbelievable.  In fact, I would not doubt that some would be skeptical that this would really be the case. 

     This poorest country in our hemisphere, back in 1994, was promised when President Aristide returned from his exile after the coup that had taken place there in 1991, that it would receive 500 million dollars of international assistance so that the people could rebuild their country.  That people could start up an economy that would provide jobs.  That people could live with dignity and could begin to move, as President Aristide says about the people of Haiti, from absolute misery to poverty with dignity.  That they could at least have that.

     But you know what?  They have never received a penny of the 500 million dollars.  Not one penny -- because the United States, which controls the decisions of the international development fund where the money would come from, has continued to insist that Haiti is not ready to receive the money saying they would not use it effectively. 

     Even this past spring, when President Aristide met with a group of 32 countries in the Caribbean and the head of the international development fund, he was told that Haiti has met every requirement for getting the money.   And yet the United States still says no.

     What makes this even more unjust is that he was forced to pay $5 million in interest on a loan that they have not received.  In meeting with him, he said with great sadness, ďI really had to struggle with whether I should handover the $5 million or not, because we could use that money for so many other things.Ē  But the head of the international development fund said they must pay the interest or they will never get the money.  So they turned over $5 million in interest for a loan that hasnít even been given to them.  Now that is an injustice that cries out to God for some kind of settlement.

     The people of Haiti are the poor, the vulnerable, the weak.  We are the judge.  What are we going to do to try to make justice come?  That the poor are lifted up, that they receive in this case what is really due them, that Godís reaching out to help the poor is realized through us.  We have to find the way. 

     One of the things we came back with, the four of us in the delegation, was a conviction that we have to begin to work to get our government to change its policies.  All of us have to participate in this kind of activity so that our government does not press down against the poor and crush them but rather lift them up and bring real justice to these people.

     So thatís one very clear example of how we must change ourselves as the judge in the parable and work for justice truly and especially for the poor. 

     Another very clear example, and I wonít dwell on this at great length because weíre so familiar with it, is whatís happening in Afghanistan.  Thirteen days of constant bombing. 

     Who is getting hit by those bombs?  The poorest people in the entire area of Afghanistan -- and Afghanistan is probably the second poorest country in the world after Haiti.  And you know, we donít hear about it, but in foreign news services like Reuters, for example, you are told that hundreds of people have been killed by those bombs. You know our media almost want to make it seem like bombs are hitting only military targets.  But itís not true.  Hundreds of people have been killed.  And those peopleís lives are worth as much as the lives of people in the United States. 

     Isnít it an act of terrorism to bomb where you are going to kill civilian people inevitably?  And even if you donít think of the ones who are killed directly by the bombs, tens of thousands of people have had to flee.  And where will they go?  Into a refugee camp, where they wonít have enough food.  They may not be killed directly by a bomb, but theyíll die from hunger and neglect and illness with no medicines to cure them.

     If Godís justice is always on the side of the poor, where do you think the justice of God is in this case?  Are not these among the most vulnerable people in the world?  And if weíre in the place of the judge in the parable, what must we do?  We must try again to change the direction of our nation, to stop the violence, to stop the killing. 

     Last Sunday, the head of the Taliban government offered to negotiate.  President Bush said, ďNo.Ē  He said, ďIíve given you the conditions.  Meet them or else.Ē  That is not the justice of God.  Do we want our nation to act in this way?  Or will we try to be the judge as God would be and bring Godís justice into the situation?

     And, finally, Iíll tell you about one other situation that youíll have an opportunity hear much more about next Sunday.  After mass next Sunday, weíre going to have a visitor speak to us.  Itís an Afro-Nicaraguan woman.  She lives on the Atlantic coast of Nicaragua, one of the poorest areas of that very, very poor country.  Their land is being taken away from them because outside developers have found this to be a place they want so as to bring about development. They want to make a deep water port there, destroy the coral reefs and destroy the areas where the people have supported themselves through fishing. Their land is being taken away from them and theyíre going to bring about some kind of development.

     The United States ambassador to Nicaragua, Oliver Garza, boasted in a letter to the Nicaraguan national assembly that jobs for this development will be contracted out to some of the most prestigious construction firms in the U.S.  Who will get the money as this land is taken away from the people who live there?

     Clearly, the poor and the vulnerable are being treated with disdain, with injustice again. In our parable, these are the people who are like that widow woman.  And, again, we are, or at least should think about ourselves as being, in the position of the judge.  Are we going to try to change things and mete out the justice of God, give the justice of God to the poor and the vulnerable?  Or will we simply sit back and let this injustice go on?  Jesus said, ďWhen the Son of Man returns, will he find faith on earth?Ē

     And so this morning, I invite all of us to look into our hearts to see if we have faith in the justice of God, and that weíre willing to work to make that justice of God happen so that the vulnerable, the weak, the poor will be given a chance to move from misery, again, as President Aristide said, to poverty with dignity.  Thatís all they ask.  Do we have confidence in Godís justice such that we will begin to act according to Godís justice that goes far beyond human justice and can bring real fullness of life to the poorest and most vulnerable people in our world?

     I pray that we will think about this deeply and try to change our hearts to become people who will act always with the extravagant justice of God. 

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


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