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.)
Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time
December 5, 2004

Thomas J. Gumbleton
Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese
of Detroit, Michigan *

This week's readings **

Isaiah 11:1-10
And there shall come forth a shoot out of the stock of Jesse, and a branch out of his roots shall bear fruit. And the Spirit of Jehovah shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of Jehovah. And his delight shall be in the fear of Jehovah; and he shall not judge after the sight of his eyes, neither decide after the hearing of his ears; but with righteousness shall he judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth; and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked. And righteousness shall be the girdle of his waist, and faithfulness the girdle of his loins. And the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder's den. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of Jehovah, as the waters cover the sea. And it shall come to pass in that day, that the root of Jesse, that standeth for an ensign of the peoples, unto him shall the nations seek; and his resting-place shall be glorious.

Romans 15:4-9
For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that through patience and through comfort of the scriptures we might have hope. Now the God of patience and of comfort grant you to be of the same mind one with another according to Christ Jesus: that with one accord ye may with one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Wherefore receive ye one another, even as Christ also received you, to the glory of God. For I say that Christ hath been made a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, that he might confirm the promises given unto the fathers, and that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy; as it is written, Therefore will I give praise unto thee among the Gentiles, And sing unto thy name.

Matthew 3:1-12
And in those days cometh John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea, saying, Repent ye; for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. For this is he that was spoken of through Isaiah the prophet, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make ye ready the way of the Lord, Make his paths straight. Now John himself had his raiment of camel's hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins; and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then went out unto him Jerusalem, and all Judaea, and all the region round about the Jordan; and they were baptized of him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said unto them, Ye offspring of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruit worthy of repentance: and think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham. And even now the axe lieth at the root of the trees: every tree therefore that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. I indeed baptize you in water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you in the Holy Spirit and in fire: whose fan is in his hand, and he will thoroughly cleanse his threshing-floor; and he will gather his wheat into the garner, but the chaff he will burn up with unquenchable fire.

* 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.

As I was reflecting during this past week on the scripture passages that we just heard, I kept coming back to this thought: we are so casual about Christmas. We talk about it as the day we remember that Jesus was born, the son of God came into the world -- and then we go on about our regular, ordinary, everyday activities.

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God is coming into the world, and we don't really seem to be shaken up by it. How strange that is!

When John the Baptist began to announce the coming of Jesus, people got all excited and they flocked to him. "Coming in great crowds," Matthew tells us, from Jerusalem, Judea, from everywhere! John was proclaiming the good news that the reign of God is at hand. God is coming into our midst.

The prophet Isaiah, even more, looked forward to that time. He described the stump of Jesse. He meant that the family of David had become a stump; it was almost dead. It was dying out. Nothing was left of this great royal family, but then Isaiah foresees how from that stump will come forth roots and a branch that will grow and bear fruit; he's looking forward to the breaking of God into human history. The God who says, "I am who am." The God who is responsible for everything in the whole universe. The God who drew us out of nothingness. The God who is responsible for every moment of our lives. "This God is coming into our midst!"

Isaiah foresaw what would happen when God comes: then there will be an extraordinary time of peace and fullness of life. You almost sense that he's searching for the words to try to make us realize what this can mean. "The wolf will dwell with the lamb. The leopard will rest beside the kid. The calf and the lion cub will feed together. Befriending each other, the cow and the bear will see their young ones lie down together. Like cattle the lion will eat hay. By the cobra's den, the snake" -- which is the sign of all evil -- "the infant will play and the child will put his hand into the viper's lair. No one will harm or destroy anything over my holy mountain because as water fills the sea, the earth will be filled with the knowledge of God."

It's a magnificent vision, and it's Isaiah's way of trying to impress upon us what it means that God enters into human history. It can change everything! And it is meant to change everything!

Then, of course, we have to ask ourselves, "Then why hasn't it happened?" Two thousand years later. Well, it's probably because we haven't listened to the rest of the message. John not only said, "The reign of God is at hand." He also said, "Change your lives." See, we have to begin to live differently if the reign of God is really to burst forth in our individual lives, and in our society, and in the whole human community. We have to change our lives! We can't keep going on as we have been. They're talking, John the Baptist and Isaiah, are talking about radical changes. We almost don't want to think about how much God is asking of us. To change our lives.

I'm afraid we're probably like those Pharisees and Sadducees. Good people they were. Today it is hard for us to think of them as good people, because in the Gospels they're criticized so much. Pharisees, even the word itself has become a term for "hypocritical." Pharisaical, hypocritical. But they really were very sincere people who practiced and kept, in a very strict way, the Torah, the Law of God.

Then why did John call them "a brood of vipers." Why? Well, because they had become complacent. They thought that just because they belonged to the chosen people. They were the sons and daughters of Abraham and Sarah, they belonged to the covenanted people, so they thought they were OK. They don't have to do anything. But John said, "You too must change your lives. You can't be complacent."

And that's the message given to us, but we probably don't want to hear it. We are too complacent. We are too ready to just go along with the way things are. We are not wanting, really, to change our lives in the way that God suggests in these readings today.

Isaiah tells us that when God enters into history, "God will judge with justice, and God will reach out to the poor with righteousness, and be on the side of the poor." God comes to bring justice, calls us to act with justice, to change our lives. It's probably in this area more than anywhere else that you and I have to think about how to change our lives, because we live in a world where there is extreme injustice. When you think about how the wealth of the world is distributed, there's so much that so few have and so little that the majority have. The contrast between the few who have so much and the many who have so little is extraordinary.

I couldn't help but be profoundly moved by this realization during this past week as I thought about the wealth of this nation and the poverty of a place like Haiti. I'm sure all of us who were on the delegation to Haiti experienced the same thing. This extraordinary contrast was reinforced for me this morning when I was reading the paper, an article about consumption and spending in the United States:

"After all, the United States economy depends on its citizens' penchant for spending with abandon. Consumer spending accounts for two-thirds of the nation's $11 trillion economy."

Consumer spending two-thirds of $11 trillion economy. Every year that's how much we spend.

"The machinery of American advertising, marketing, media and finance all encourage the consumption habit. Many consumers are unable to resist the overpowering mantra: spend, spend, spend."

And isn't that what we hear, during this time of the year when we're preparing for Jesus to come? Preparing for God to break into human history, to change everything, what are we about? Spend, spend, spend.

Further on in the article it points out that: "The majority of U.S. households have attained a level of affluence where added consumption no longer improves welfare." We are not spending for what we need; the added consumption doesn't improve our welfare. This is remarked upon by Juliet Schorr, an economist and professor of sociology at Boston College.

"Indeed, she points to studies that show materialistic attitudes -- wanting more and more and never being satisfied -- increase the likelihood that a person will suffer from depression, anxiety and low self-esteem.

"And in surveys of children age 10 to 13," she points out that "their overriding goal is to get rich. In response to the statement , 'I want to make a lot of money when I grow up,' 63 percent agreed, and only 7 percent disagreed."

Our children 10 to 13, their goal in life is to get wealthy, because it seems so possible here in this country and because we have such affluence.

Then you go to Haiti and you find people living in shacks. Eight, 10, 12 people crowded into one very small shack. Dirt floors. You find out that 25 percent of the children of that country are afflicted with extreme malnutrition. That means it's already at the point where it cannot be reversed. Their physical and mental lives are stunted and will be. There's no reversal. The rest of the children, the rest of the people are desperately poor except for one tiny, elite group among them. About three percent of the population share with us an abundance of wealth.

This is the kind of injustice that exists in our world, and that's only one small example. The contrast between Haiti and us is extreme and once you go there and see it, and feel it, and experience it you'll never be the same. You just cannot not be concerned. To change things -- as John says to "Change your lives!" -- we have to work for justice. We have to bring about a more ethical sharing of all the wealth that God has given to all of us on this planet.

The injustice in Haiti is not just in regard to the terrible contrast between the rich and the poor. The injustice is also perpetrated because, through the efforts of the United States government, Haiti's legitimate government was overthrown. The legitimately elected president, President Aristide, was pushed out, forced to go into exile. If you go into Cite'Soleil -- the slum in Port Au Prince that is home to 400,000 to 600,000 people -- overwhelmingly the people want their president back. It is overwhelmingly true throughout the country, but we won't let him come back. We forced him out and we'll continue to keep him out.

The poor are being deprived of the one who was, and could still be, their leader. He promised to change their lives, to move their lives from misery and poverty to dignity, and he was beginning to try to make happen. But injustice prevails.

We must change the way we live, and the aspirations we pass on to our children. We must work to make justice happen. Haiti is just one situation.

So if we want the kind of peace that Isaiah proclaimed -- it is such a beautiful promise -- and everything that Jesus wanted to happen with his in coming into our midst and breaking into human history, it can't happen until we heed the whole message and change our lives.

In another part of Isaiah's promise, he tells us that when Jesus comes he will not be coming with weapons and dressed in armor; rather the girdle around his waist will be justice and his clothing will be truth that can lead to peace.

Certainly the most dramatic ways in which we must change our lives are in those two areas: giving up violence and working to reverse the situations of injustice that are so present in our world. St. Paul reminds us of another thing that we have to try to do: "Accept one another." He said, "Work on your relationships with one another." We must do that within our parish family, our individual families, and then the whole human family. Accept one another. Love one another. Work on our relationships. That's how the reign of God can break forth.

Isaiah concludes the passage of today by saying, "On that day, the root of Jesse" -- the one who comes from Jesse, that is, Jesus -- "will be raised as a signal for the nation. The people from everywhere will come in search of him thus making his dwelling place glorious." Jesus came to be a sign to all the nations of what could happen. To bring peace into our world.

And now Jesus has passed that mission on to us. You see, if we take seriously today's message and change our lives, we can become that signal, that sign to all the nations of how peace can happen. If we take seriously our mission and change our lives, peace will break forth in our world.

In the words of Pope John Paul: "The shattered moral order in which it seems that evil is overcoming good will be transformed. A new moral order will break forth based on justice and love that will bring peace." As we continue during Advent to enter into prayer and reflection, I hope we will all try to discover how I -- each of us -- can be more of a true signal to other people, to all people, to all the world, so they can see how God can change everything and bring peace into our midst.

In the name of the father and of the son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

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