|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.)
As we approach the end of the church year and also the end of the calendar year, the scriptures suggest that we turn our thoughts to the end of the world, the end of time, and to the return of Jesus. But we must listen very deeply to the scriptures today, because they really are not about an eminent end of time that we should fear. That may be our first impression, but here is what is happening:
Those first disciples were caught by that message. You can imagine. All of us would be. Then they began to see the signs. John points out one sign in the second chapter of his Gospel where Jesus changes the water into wine at the wedding feast at Canaan in Galilee. He said this was the first of the signs. The disciples were caught up in this excitement. "It's happening!" they thought.
Also Jesus went around curing and healing, forgiving sin, and reaching out to the oppressed, the marginalized and the rejected. He was drawing people to himself with great love. The reign of God seemed to be breaking forth. The disciples saw those signs.
Then, of course, they experienced Jesus being put to death. Even though Jesus said the reign of God was at hand and they saw him as the anointed, the Messiah, they didn't quite understand what he was saying about himself. Even after the crucifixion and the resurrection, they were still saying to Jesus, "Well is it now that the Kingdom will be restored to Israel? Is David's kingdom going to be made whole and strong again and will lead the whole world?"
They were thinking in terms of an earthly kingdom, an earthly power, and they thought that was going to happen right away. But of course it didn't, and when this gospel is written -- it was already in the late 70s or the early 80s -- Jesus had not yet returned. They were beginning to understand that maybe it is going to be a long time.
When Luke composed the gospel lesson that we heard today, he did it with this in mind. He had to reassure people because some pretty terrible things were happening. See by that time, the Temple in Jerusalem had already been destroyed. There was not a stone left upon a stone, and they were under the harsh occupying power of Rome. People were being persecuted. By this time, Peter had already been executed. Paul was gone. James, the first bishop of Jerusalem, had been put to death and the people had to flee. So the church was undergoing terrible persecution and suffering, and it looked like disaster was all around.
That is why Luke composed the gospel as he did. He suggested that Jesus foresaw all of this, because Luke wanted us to understand that God is really the God of all history and God is in control. God is guiding history. Luke shows Jesus saying all of this would happen so that we will understand that God is behind this, guiding it. God is not causing the evil, the persecution, the hatred, the wars and the earthquakes, but God is still there while all of this goes on. Luke was trying to reassure the community as they faced these persecutions and encourage them.
"Look, this is the opportunity for you to bear witness," is his message. "Be people who show by your faith that you know who Jesus is and that yes he will return at some point and the reign of God will happen in its fullness. Not now, but it will!"
Luke reassured them, "Do not worry about what you are going to say when you are brought into court. You are being persecuted because you are trying to live out the way of Jesus and people reject you. Don't worry God will be with you. Jesus says, 'I will give you words and wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to understand. Or be able to withstand or contradict.' "
Luke continued: "Even if your own parents, brothers, sisters, relatives and friends turn against you and want to put you to death, even then don't worry. God is with you. Jesus is present. Ultimately, not a hair on your head will perish, and through your perseverance you will possess your own selves. You will be cool and confident and able to go on as a disciple of Jesus."
Now, this is a very important lesson, I think, for us right at this time in history.
Obviously it was a very important lesson for those first Christians in the community at Jerusalem and in the surrounding communities back in the first century. But it is also important for us, because we live in a time when we're very much aware of wars, famine, earthquakes and disasters of all kinds. Our world in many ways seems to be breaking apart. There are tensions among people of different ethnic groups. Look at what's happening in the Middle East and the Holy Land. There is a slight chance now that peace could come. But just a slight chance. There's so much violence and hatred between Israelis and Palestinians. There are wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Wars and ethnic cleansing in Africa. It's a terrible time in many ways. In fact, a couple of years ago on the World Day of Peace -- Jan. 1, 2002 -- Pope John Paul II wrote:
What is the hope which sustains the church at the beginning of 2002 when we live in a world in which the power of evil seems to have once again taken the upper hand? How will this world, in fact, be transformed into a world in which the noblest of aspirations of the human heart will triumph? A world in which true peace will prevail? We're still struggling for that. We still want that so desperately and yet we live in a world in which the power of evil seems again to have taken the upper hand. The moral order is shattered. So we need to hear Jesus say, "I'm still with you. My spirit will guide you." And, perhaps, what we need to do is remember and be challenged by and respond to what Jesus said immediately after he had told those first disciples: "the reign of God is at hand." But he also told them then, "Change your lives! Change your lives!" That is how the reign of God will happen. We must act differently. We must act according to the way of Jesus. He brought us a whole different way in which to confront this world in which the power of evil seems to have the upper hand. But we still don't seem to have heard his message or we don't seem to want to follow it."
In that same Peace Day statement Pope John Paul goes on to suggest to us how we ought to change our lives so that the reign of God will break forth and that the world in which the power of evil seems to have the upper hand can be transformed into a world in which peace will prevail. What he suggests is very difficult, and we seem to resist.
He tells us: "Recent events including the terrible killings" -- he was speaking about September 11, 2001 -- "move me to return to a theme which often stirs in the depth of my heart when I remember the events of history which mark my life, especially my youth." He is remembering back to when he was a teenager in the 1940s and his nation was invaded by the Nazi army and occupied harshly for five years. Following that, the nation had to endure Communist totalitarianism.
He continues, "The enormous sufferings of peoples and individuals, even among my own friends, caused by Nazi and Communist totalitarianism has never been far from my thoughts and prayers."
Then he says, "I've often paused to reflect on the persistent question" -- the question we ask ourselves today -- "How do we restore the moral and social order subjected to such horrific violence?" How do we make the world whole when it is shattered by violence and hatred and war?"
After reflecting on these questions, he turns to the word of God. From this he concludes: "The shattered order cannot be fully restored except by a response that combines justice with forgiveness. The two pillars upon which true peace will be built are justice and that special form of love we call forgiveness."
If we're going to restore the shattered moral order we will only do it by building peace on two pillars; justice and that special form of love we call forgiveness, which means "enemy love," where you love the one who hurt you and return good for evil.
Now that isn't the way we've been going. That is not how we have reacted.
Consider this: what if before September 11 happened, when our leaders knew that something was in the offing, as they did, what if instead of just preparing to retaliate we had asked ourselves and our leaders had asked themselves: Why are people upset? Why would people plot to destroy us? Maybe there is injustice in the world that we have to try to remedy.
We could have reached out to the people who oppose us and tried to listen and understand the suffering of people to discover why and how. We could have reached out in the hopes of building justice.
Even though we did not do that before, when it did happen, we should have asked ourselves why it happened. Then we could have moved ourselves to forgiveness, that special form of love which marked the life of Jesus, which he intended to mark the lives of his followers.
Love your enemy. We don't do that. Instead we continue to wage war.
We somehow think that violence is going to end violence, but it won't!
How many times have we heard that, that violence only leads to more violence, yet deep down, how many times have we rejected that? People will say, "Well you know it won't work!"
I am sure people said that to Pope Leo when armies where ready to invade Rome. A lot of people said, "It won't work. Why bother going out there. You need an army to confront Attila and the army he has with him." Despite that, Pope Leo went, listened, and spoke; he negotiated and Rome was not destroyed. War was avoided.
In the 13th century, don't you suppose a lot of people said to Francis of Assisi, "You're crazy," when he said, "Instead of waging war against the Muslims we have to go and speak with them." He went by himself. He was able to go right into the enemy camp, speak with the Sultan and discover that yes, he wanted to make peace. But the crusaders refused. It could have happened, according to the way of Jesus.
In modern times, people probably told Nelson Mandela he was crazy because he said he could negotiate with the white oppressors in South Africa. When he came out of prison after "those long and lonely years," as he called his imprisonment, he understood he had to work for the freedom of the oppressors as much as the freedom of the oppressed. And he did it. He followed the way of Jesus. You reach out. You try to understand. You work for justice. You forgive your enemy. That is how we will build peace in our world.
Today, then, as we listen to these scripture lessons, they could be very frightening, because they talk about such terrible things that can happen, have happened and will happen. But we can be reassured once more that God is within human history in Jesus who came into our midst. God is with us at every moment in Jesus who lives within us and in our midst. We can be reassured if we listen to Jesus, not only hear him say, "The reign of God is at hand", but also hear him say, "Change your lives and begin to act differently."
Jesus asks us to begin to work in every way we can to build true peace in our world, to restore the shattered the moral order by building it on the two pillars: justice and that special form of love we call forgiveness.
That is how the reign of God will break forth in its fullness. Each of us has to be changed, in our everyday activities and in our interactions with one another. Then we as a people, as a nation, we must begin to change the way we confront the shattered moral order. We must bring into our public policy this conviction that we will only make true peace on the pillars of justice and love.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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