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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 five days after they are given, always on Friday. 
January 26, 2003
Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

This week's readings **

Jonah 3:1-5, 10

The word of Yahweh came to Jonah the second time, saying, "Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and preach to it the message that I give you." So Jonah arose, and went to Nineveh, according to the word of Yahweh. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, three days' journey across. Jonah began to enter into the city, a day's journey, and he cried out, and said, "Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!" The people of Nineveh believed God; and they proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them. 

God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way. God repented of the evil which he said he would do to them, and he didn't do it.

1 Corinthians 7:29-31

But I say this, brothers and sisters, the time is short.  From now on, let those who have wives be as though that have none; and those who weep, as though they do not weep; and those who rejoice, as though they do not rejoice; and those who buy, as though they do not possess; and those who use the world, as not using it to the fullest. For the mode of this world is passing away.

Mark 1:14-20

Now after John was taken into custody, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom of God, and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand! Repent, and believe in the Gospel."

Passing along by the sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net in the sea, for they were fishermen. Jesus said to them, "Come after me, and I will make you into fishers for men."

Immediately they left their nets, and followed him. Going on a little further from there, he saw James the son of Zebedee, and John, his brother, who were also in the boat mending the nets. Immediately he called them, and they left their father, Zebedee, in the boat with the hired servants, and went after him. 

* 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).


Two weeks ago when that huge march took place in Washington opposed to our going to war against Iraq, you may have read in the press that there was also a counter demonstration. It was very small, a couple hundred people, but it got significant coverage.  

     One of the things I noticed was someone in that group carrying a sign.  And that sign said: "Pacificists are parasites on the rest of the people." That is a very demeaning thing to say about pacifists. It is also a very ignorant thing to say about pacifists, those who reject violence.  

     I think about Martin Luther King, Jr., a pacifist, one who totally rejected violence in any situation. Certainly, he was not a parasite on the rest of us. I think in the judgment of history that it will be clear that he contributed more to our nation and its well-being by contributing something to our spirit life than almost any other person in our history, all of our great military leaders and so on.  

     Dr. King brought the spirit of love, the spirit of compassion, the spirit of goodness, the spirit of Jesus into our midst in a very real way. His contribution not only brought that spirit of Jesus, but it also effected an extraordinary change in our land. Because, through Dr. King's revolution, much of the discrimination and the segregation that had so marred us as a people was eliminated. He made a contribution. He was not a parasite. 

     Another thing that probably comes to mind when you think of a parasite, you think of someone who is cowardly. Dr. King was far from being a coward.  

     I remind you of something we reflected on before that I always find to be one of the most powerful expressions of what it means to be non-violent that you can find anywhere. They are the words Dr. King spoke in the church in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963 after the Children's March when the police and National Guard used fire hoses and clubs and dogs against the children. The demonstration was broken up with terrible violence with many people injured.  

     That night in the church, Dr. King preached to those people, gathered them together and reminded them how they had to love in response to that violence.

     He said, "We must say to our white brothers and sisters all over the South who try to keep us down: 'We will match your capacity to inflict suffering with our capacity to endure suffering. We will meet your physical force with spirit force. We will not hate you and yet we cannot in all good conscience obey your evil laws. Do to us what you will. Threaten our children and we will still love you. Bomb our homes. Go by our churches early in the morning and bomb them, if you please. And we will still love you. We will wear you down by our capacity to suffer and, winning the victory, we will not only win our freedom, we will so appeal to your hearts and your consciences that we will win you in the process'." 

     I don't think we can find a better description of what non-violence, what act of love, what the commitment to the way of Jesus really means. It means that you can transform the world, transform a situation of hate and violence through love.  

     But it takes tremendous courage, doesn't it; to say we will match your capacity to inflict suffering with our capacity to endure suffering.  We will accept whatever you thrust upon us by way of violence and return love. No one can be committed to non-violence and be a coward or be a parasite.  

     I think it is very appropriate that we reflect on this message of Dr. King today in the light of the Gospel this morning.  Jesus is just starting his public life. Mark makes a note of the fact that John the Baptist, whom Jesus had been following, was arrested and put in jail. As we know from later on in the Gospel, he was executed because he had been proclaiming God's word.

     So, Jesus comes now to take his place, putting himself in the same risk of John the Baptist because Jesus has a message.  The reign of God is at hand. The reign of God is ready to break forth and Jesus said that 2000 years ago. It was true then. It is still true now. The reign of God can happen -- the reign of God where there would be justice in our world. We would not have 2/3's of the world's people - or 3/4 of them actually - living in desperate poverty with only a few having the benefit of most of the resources of the planet, a situation of just extreme injustice. The reign of God would change all of that.  

     The reign of God would not cause us to have to live in fear right now that our nation will commit the horror of another war against 22 million people who live in Iraq in dread of when the bombing will start. The reign of God would mean peace, peace within us, peace in our world. And the reign of God is at hand.  

     That's what Jesus is trying to tell us. That's the good news, but we must listen to his next words because this is how the reign of God will break forth: Change your lives! Be converted! And the word that Mark uses (and it is used throughout scripture) means a very deep, profound change of direction in our lives.  

     It is exemplified by those first disciples. Jesus goes along the shore of the Sea of Galilee and says, "Follow me." And they drop everything to follow Jesus. Now in that lesson we think immediately of their material goods that they let go of. But it is much more than that. We have to let go of some of our mindsets, some of our excessive trust in material things, some of our conviction that we can't resolve conflict except through violence.  

     We have to let go of that--change our thinking--change our lives! The reign of God will happen and it is guaranteed that it will happen within my heart, your heart, any of us, once we are ready to let go and be changed--change the direction of our lives. 

     Jesus wants us to be like God, the God who is revealed in our first lesson today. We didn't read this far in the passage, but at the end of the whole thing, when Jonah was complaining because God's love was so apparent, that God was willing to forgive these terrible sinners in Nineveh, God says to Jonah, "But Nineveh has more than 120,000 people who cannot distinguish right from left and they have many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned for such a great city and its people?" 

     God loved them. God was ready to reach out in compassion and forgive them. That's the way of Jesus. And I can't help but think, and perhaps you are aware of this, ancient Nineveh is a city in what is now the territory of Iraq.  

     What if, as a people, we reached out to the Ninevites, now the Iraqi, with love, with goodness, with justice instead of threatening them with violence and killing? How different our world could be!

     Tremendous change has to take place within our nation, within our hearts. And today, as I mentioned at the beginning, some members of our parish family, members of Pax Christi here at St. Leo's, will be making a vow of non-violence. For some, it will be the first time. For others, it will be a renewal of that vow. And I invite everyone here to follow the text as printed in our bulletin as these members make this vow in a few moments.  

     If we are not at the point where we can say what the vow entails: to accept suffering rather than inflict it; to refuse to retaliate in the face of provocation and violence, to persevere in non-violence of tongue and heart, living conscientiously and simply so I do not deprive others of the means to live, and so on -- If we are not ready to say that with total sincerity of heart, we can, at least, pray for those who say these words -- that they will be faithful to them and we must pray that each of us will continue to hear the call of Jesus: Change your lives! Follow the way of the Gospel in its fullness; in the truly radical way that Jesus calls us. Pray that each of us can, at some point, bring ourselves to change our lives and like those first disciples, drop everything and follow Jesus.

[Editor’s Note:  The following section is from the prayer service for those taking the vow of non-violence, which immediately followed the homily.]

     I ask everyone to pause for a moment of quiet prayer. Pray that God's spirit will be in our midst now -- the spirit of Jesus, the spirit of compassion and love, the spirit of wisdom and courage, the spirit of Jesus so that all these members of our parish family will make their promise of non-violence in sincerity of heart.

     And now everyone may follow as we make this promise:

     Recognizing the violence in my own heart, yet trusting in the goodness and mercy of God, I vow to practice the non-violence of Jesus who taught us in the sermon on the mount: "Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the sons and daughters of God. You have learned how it was said you must love your neighbor and hate your enemy, but I say to you, ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. In this way, you will be daughters and sons of your creator in heaven.’"

     Before God the Creator and the Sanctifying spirit, I vow to carry out in my life the love and example of Jesus by striving for peace within myself and seeking to be a peacemaker in my daily life. By accepting suffering rather than inflicting it, by refusing to retaliate in the face of provocation and violence, by persevering in non-violence of tongue and heart, by living conscientiously and simply so that I do not deprive others of the means to live, by actively resisting evil and working non-violently to abolish war and the causes of war from my own heart and from the face of the earth.

     God, I trust in your sustaining love and I believe that just as you gave me the grace and desire to offer this, so you will also bestow abundant grace to fulfill it.  

     Now I ask everyone in the church to please stand and extend our hands over those who have made this promise and we pray a blessing upon them.

     God, in your goodness, grant grace to our brothers and sisters who have made this promise to radically follow the way of Jesus in non-violence, the courage and the strength to live up to this promise.  

     If at any time they fail, we pray you will help them to renew their commitment to follow only the way of Jesus. We pray that through their example all of us may come to know more deeply that Jesus calls us to love with compassion and forgiveness; that only these are of Jesus and that these can bring us peace in our hearts and in our world. We ask for this blessing in the name of Jesus, your son, who lives with you and the Holy Spirit, One God forever and ever. AMEN.

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