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|The Peace Pulpit: Homilies by Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton|
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.)
Thomas J. Gumbleton
Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese
* 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.
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.
As we reflect on the scripture lessons today, I think it helps if we put these lessons in the context of the church year, which is coming to a close today. As we reflect on these readings, we review the whole act of God’s love for us in sending Jesus into the world to show us the way to the fullness of God’s life.
As the new church year starts, we prepare for the birth of Jesus. As the year continues, we watch Jesus grow and follow some of the mysteries of his life: his being found in the temple, his baptism by John the Baptist, the beginning of his public life as he begins to preach, calling people to conversion and a new way of life by proclaiming that the reign of God is at hand. Then we go into Lent and watch as Jesus gives himself over to our hands, is tortured and nailed to a cross. Then he is raised from the dead and sends us the Holy Spirit. We continue through the church year trying to understand what it means to be a community of disciples of Jesus. We listen to his words and follow his example through the Sundays that we call “ordinary time.”
Now we have completed those Sundays, and, today, the church year culminates. We join with the first disciples trying to understand something about the fullness of God’s reign, who Jesus really is and what it means to be raised from the dead. After Jesus was gone, those first disciples experienced the coming of the Holy Spirit, and they continued to reflect on the life of Jesus: Who is he? What did he mean? What did he teach us? How are we to follow him? And what has happened to him?
Those disciples searched the scriptures, scriptures like we heard today from Daniel when we heard the prophet speaking about one like a son of man coming in the clouds of heaven. Dominion, honor, kingship are given him, and all the peoples and nations of every language come to know him, serve him, follow him. His dominion is eternal and shall never pass away. His kingdom will never be destroyed. We see Jesus as the fulfillment of that one who is like a son of man -- a human person, a human being, and also the son of God, now in glory.
In the Book of Revelations, that first community of disciples is, again, trying to understand Jesus and what has happened to him. They see Jesus as the faithful witness, the first born of the dead, the first of all who are to be raised from the dead, the ruler of the kings of the earth. They understand Jesus now as the one who loves us and washes away our sins with his own blood, making us a kingdom in God. He comes with the clouds and everyone will see him, even those who pierced him and all the nations of the earth will mourn his death. Yes, it will be so. They are confident that, this Jesus, whom they knew as one like them in every way except sin, this Jesus is son of God in glory. They are confident that all people of the earth will come to know him, revere him, praise him, love him and follow him. The reign of God will come in its fullness.
This is what we celebrate today. The coming of that fullness of the reign of God.
But we also have to remind ourselves -- and this is where it gets somewhat difficult -- that even though we call Jesus "king" and we think about him in the terms we just heard from Daniel and the Book of Revelation, Jesus really rejected that notion of being a king.
He struggled with this throughout his life. Remember the temptations in the desert at the beginning of his public life? One of the things that the devil offered him: "I will give you all the kingdoms of the earth." The devil said he would make Jesus the ruler of everyone with all the power and the might and the wealth and the prestige that goes with that. Jesus replied: "Begone Satan!" Jesus rejected that whole idea.
At other times during his life when he performed miracles, like the one in the desert where he fed the thousands, people came to him afterwards and wanted to make him king. What they meant, of course, was that they wanted him to provide for them. At these times, Jesus went into hiding. He would not let them make him king.
Jesus even had to struggle with his closest disciples: James and John had come to him wanting the first place in the kingdom. They were thinking of power, might and prestige. They thought of the kingdom in terms of ruling over others, dominating other people, coercing other people. All Jesus said to them was: can you drink of the cup that I will drink of? He was thinking of the cup of sorrow and suffering, his death. The only way that he would be a king would be a king nailed to a cross in total helplessness and absolute poverty. He would be a king who was willing to pour forth his very life in service and love for others.
By not accepting the idea that he would be a king like the kings of this earth, Jesus overturned the whole concept of kingship so dramatically that you almost feel that you should not use this word to speak about Jesus, because it always gives us the wrong idea. We have to keep struggling to understand what Jesus really means, if we, in any way, accept him as king.
There is no place in the scriptures where Jesus says: “Look, I am a king! Follow me. I have given you this example so that you may lead as I have.” He never spoke like this. But he does say something very dramatic at the Last Supper.
After he washed his disciples feet and became their servant (in effect, their slave because it was a slave who washed the feet of people when they came for a meal). Only after that act of service, did he say: “You call me master and lord and you are right, for so I am. If I, then, your lord and master, have washed your feet, you also must wash one another’s feet. I have just given you an example that as I have done, you also may do.”
See, Jesus is asking each of us to be a king, if we want to use that word, but in a whole different way. We must be the servant -- the slave even -- of all others, ready to pour forth our life in love for others.
As we celebrate this feast, we ask ourselves, how much loving service do we give? Where do we draw the line? Do we really pour forth our life in service and love? We do to some extent, and we are blessed that we do. If you look in today’s bulletin, you will see a letter from Daretta Williams, the director of our soup kitchen. She writes about how one of our guests was killed in an automobile accident. She was hit by a car. Of course, she had no resources for a funeral. He husband is also a guest at the soup kitchen. The letter explains how we, as a community, were able to provide for this guest a final service, helping her have a dignified burial. This is a beautiful thing. We must continue to try to do these kinds of things. This is the kind of loving service Jesus expects of us.
Yesterday was Myra Gibson’s memorial service. It was a very moving service because these people, especially Charlene, Marishia, and Cheriese spoke about the love they had experienced from this beautiful woman who gave her life in service really. She raised five foster children and did a beautiful job. This is a genuine kind of service and love, the thing that Jesus asks us to do: “I have given you an example that you may do as I do. Give yourself in service to others.”
Our service must go beyond our immediate community too. Yesterday was the 40th anniversary of the death of President John F. Kennedy. Throughout the week, we were able to read in the press and hear on the radio and television, excerpts from his speeches. One of the things people remember so much about President Kennedy was the challenge that he gave in his inauguration speech, when he said to all of us, the people of this very rich nation. He said: “Ask not what your country can do for you, but ask what you can do for your country.” Be people of service is what he was saying.
This was a marvelous and beautiful challenge. We must take that same challenge, but go beyond it. We must ask not what the world can do for us, but what we can do for the world, for the people of this world. Four-fifths of the people of this world live in desperate poverty while some of us live in abundance. How do we serve them? I am afraid, we do not serve them very well.
I can share with you a passage from a book written by Michael Harrington. I came to know him a few years ago, in the effort to overcome world hunger, through the organization called Bread for the World. In a book he published back in the 1970s, called The Vast Majority, A Journey to the World’s Poor, he wrote about his experience of going to Calcutta. We are all aware of Calcutta where some of the worse slums of the world are, where literally thousands of people live on the streets or in slums with mud streets, raw sewage and garbage. They live there and die there. After he visited, Michael Harrington wrote this reflection:
Then there began the Via Dolorosa of Calcutta, the stations of its cross. I can only evoke the miseries and infirmities I saw. The man with legs so misshapen that he walked on fours; another with wads of flesh hanging from his cheek; piteous, mumbling, muttering, dirty children; haggling cab drivers; people picking at garbage; bright-faced babies who have not yet understood that they were born condemned, convicted, sentenced; and on and on, a vast wheedling, separating army of the halt and the maimed. They finally led me to think blasphemies about Jesus ….. though I left the Catholic church long ago, I have always had an affection for Jesus, which is to say the Jesus of the Catholic Worker, of the Sermon on the Mount, of compassion and gentle love. But now I want to curse him. Who is he to set up his anguish as a model of meditation for the centuries? He was crucified only once, that is all. If you assume that he is God, then you can say that he must have felt a terrible psychological loss as they nailed his divinity to the cross. But only one time; only for a matter of hours. Just one excruciating struggle up the hill with the means of his death on his back; just one crown of thorns. Terrible, but just once. In Calcutta, I think, people are crucified by the thousands every day, and then those who have not died are crucified again and again and again. If he were half the God he claims to be, he would leave his heaven and come here to do penance in the presence of a suffering so much greater than his own.
Those words are shocking. One of the reasons they shock us, I am sure, is because Michael Harrington says he used to be a Catholic, but he is not any more. He reminds us that our faith is something very fragile, something we have to keep on nurturing, keep renewing our conviction about Jesus and following Jesus, have faith. It shocks us when someone says: "I left it all."
But Michael Harrington actually was wrong in his condemnation when he says that he wants to curse Jesus. Jesus did not fail. Jesus poured forth his life in that ultimate sign of love when he gave himself for us on the cross, and was willing to do that to draw all people to himself by love. No, Jesus did not fail. We, his followers have failed. He left us the task of making the Reign of God happen through the presence of Jesus in our spirits and in our hearts. We carry forth the work of Jesus. We carry his love into the world. We serve the world, become even slaves if necessary, through our love for others, here in our community, here in our nation, and throughout the world.
Yes, it is a scandal that so many people are starving in a world where God gave all the resources necessary for everybody to have a full life. The scandal is that we who claim to be the disciples of Jesus have not really listened to his word deeply enough. “I have given you an example, just as I have served you,” Jesus said, “you must do to others.”
Today, as we celebrate this feast and mystery of Jesus as king, we must keep reminding ourselves that Jesus was a king, if you insist on calling him that, but one who refused to have his guards come and defend his life with violence and force. He said the he could have had that if he wanted it. But he rejected it.
So if we want to call him king, we must remember he is a king who came to serve and not to be served.
We must go forth from this celebration committed to following this Jesus who is king, but a king who is different in every way from the kings of this earth, a king who gives himself in love and service for others. As we begin to do that ever more faithfully, the fullness of God’s reign will surely break forth more and more each day.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.