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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 27, 2002
Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

This week's readings **

Isaiah 8:23 - 9:3

But there shall be no more gloom for where there was anguish. In the former time, he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali; but in the latter time he has made it glorious, by the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.  Those who lived in the land of the shadow of death, on them the light has shined.  You have multiplied the nation.  You have increased their joy.  They rejoice before you, according to the joy in harvest, as men rejoice when they divide the spoil.  For the yoke of their burden, and the staff on their shoulder, and the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as in the day of Midian.

1 Corinthians 1:10-13, 17

Now I beg you, brothers and sisters, through the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united together in the same mind and in the same purpose.  For it has been reported to me concerning you, my brothers and sisters, by those who are from Chloe's household, that there are contentions among you. Now I mean by this, that each one of you is saying, "I follow Paul," or "I follow Apollos," or "I follow Cephas," or "I follow Christ."  Is Christ divided?  Was Paul crucified for you?  Or were you baptized into the name of Paul?  For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the Gospel--and not in the wisdom of words, so that the cross of Christ would not be emptied of its meaning.

Matthew 4:12-23

Now when Jesus heard that John was arrested, he withdrew into Galilee.  Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken through Isaiah the prophet, saying, "The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, toward the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles, the people who sit in darkness have seen a great light, to those who sit in the region and shadow of death, to them light has dawned.  From that time, Jesus began to preach, and to say, "Repent! For the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand."

As he was walking by the sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers: Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew, his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen.  He said to them, "Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men."  They immediately left their nets and followed him.  Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets. He called them and they immediately left the boat and their father, and followed him.

Jesus went about in all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom, and healing every disease and every sickness among the people.

* 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).


I always find it quite extraordinary the way that God’s word, written so many hundreds and thousands of years ago, is so timely for us if we listen to it deeply.

     What I am referring to is the passage from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah which Isaiah proclaimed at a time when the people were experiencing terror.  War had come upon them and they were driven into exile.  Thousands were tortured and killed and it was a time of extreme tragedy.

     In the midst of what Isaiah describes as a time of terrible darkness, he proclaimed the message we hear today -- “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.  A light has dawned on those who live in the land of the shadow of death.  They rejoice before you as people rejoice, for the yoke of their burden you have broken. God has brought them a time of peace, a time of joy.” 

     In today’s gospel, Matthew sees how this is fulfilled in Jesus because he mentions how Jesus leaves Nazareth and goes to Capernaum -- “And there, in this way, the word of the prophet was fulfilled. ‘Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, Galilee of the Gentiles, the people who live in darkness have seen a great light.’” 

     Jesus comes into their midst and into our midst as a light to show us the way out of suffering and anguish, terror and violence, and comes as our sign of hope and joy.

     There’s another way that this same marvelous truth is being proclaimed in the gospel lesson today.  Jesus tells the disciples he’s going to make them fishers of people.  Just as they use their nets to gather fish for their sustenance, so too Jesus will use them to gather people together into unity, harmony, and peace. 

     You also have in the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah (Chapter 16: 14-16) the word of God that was proclaimed hundreds of years before being fulfilled.  You read how God says -- “Now, I am sending many fishermen who will gather them and bring them back. Yahweh is a living God, where he brought the Israelites out of the land of the north and out of all the countries to which he had banished them.  Yes, I will bring them back to the land I gave to their ancestors.”

     So Jesus is being proclaimed to us today as the one who sends out his disciples to gather all peoples together into a kind of harmony and unity that can bring peace into our world. 

     But, of course, for this to happen, we must listen to Jesus.  He is the light of the world and we must do as he says.  It’s very clear, isn’t it?  He says, “Change your lives, be converted.” 

     The words used in Matthew are words that indicate a radical redirection of our lives such that we really give up the ways of evil, violence, suffering and death, and follow the way of Jesus, the way which makes the reign of God happen where all peoples will be gathered together in unity.

     In the scriptures today, there are two ways in which we must look to Jesus for the way in which we can bring joy, harmony, unity and peace out of the terror, violence, suffering and death that is so present in our world. 

     The first is to do as Jesus says, “Repent, change your lives.”  This is being spoken to each of us as individual persons.  Each one of us has the task of looking into ‘my’ own heart and trying to discover how ‘I’ am not following the ways of Jesus.  ‘I’ must look upon my failures, repent of them, and ask God’s forgiveness and try to go the way of Jesus. 

     But it’s also something we must do as a nation.  We are in the midst of what our leaders tell us is a long-term war against terrorism.  It seems very clear to me that unless we, as a people, repent and really look at where we have been sinners ourselves, guilty of the very kind of terrorism that we have experienced just a few months ago, and begin to understand where we ourselves have been a nation that has perpetrated terrorism, we will never understand why people could hate us and would use terrorism against us. 

     I think it’s really extraordinary that a couple of Sundays ago in The New York Times Magazine there was an account of something that that newspaper refused to publish when it happened.  It’s an account of the massacre that took place in a tiny village in El Salvador in December of 1981.  Over 800 people were killed.  It was a brutal killing.  Over half of them were children, some of them tossed into the air and bayoneted as they fell down to the ground.  All of the people were massacred in that village.  But, for the first time in this newspaper, what they had refused to print before, they now print:

     “In the middle of El Salvador’s civil war, the American-trained, American-financed Atlacatl Battalion decided to make an example of a town in the guerrilla stronghold of Morazán. The world knows of the events of El Mozote because of Rufina Amaya, the single known survivor. Her account and eyewitness reports of the bodies were dismissed by the Reagan administration and the government of El Salvador as guerrilla propaganda. For 11 years, military and government officials there insisted that no massacre had taken place at El Mozote.” 

     Now, at least in this newspaper which refused to print the story when it happened and denied that it ever happened, the massacre is publicly being acknowledged. 

     The soldiers that did this were American-trained at the School of the Americas at Fort Benning (Georgia) and paid for with American tax dollars. The massacre was carried out with weapons provided by the United States.   So we were deeply involved in this act of terrorism. 

     Perhaps, now, when our national newspaper is willing to admit it, our nation will begin to repent and to understand that if we want to eliminate terrorism from the world, we can’t just look at others who might be terrorists. We have to repent of what we have done and make sure that we as a nation are not carrying out terrorism ever again. 

     It is necessary for us to ‘repent’ as Jesus says, change our lives, change the direction that our nation has gone and begin truly to pursue the ways of peace which are the ways of Jesus, the ways of forgiveness, reconciliation and love -- and only those. 

     The other thing that we must do is also brought out clearly in today’s lessons.  When Paul writes to the church in Corinth, he’s pleading with them.  They are all followers of Jesus and he’s saying to them, “You must give up your divisions.  You can’t have one group claiming superiority over another or one group trying to have power over another. You’re all followers of Jesus and so you must come together in unity and bring peace to your community.  Only then can you be as Jesus intended his followers to be, a light to the world around us.”

     That message of Paul is every bit as important today as it was when he wrote it. But today we have an even deeper insight than Saint Paul had. 

     This past week, Pope John Paul II called together over 200 leaders of various faith traditions.  As believers in God, every one of these faith traditions must respect and reverence each other.  God is revealed in all of them and we must not be fighting against one another. 

     Sadly enough, though, in the world in which we live, the United Nations reported that over half of the conflicts in the world have at their base religion.  That’s like a blasphemy against God.  This is what Pope John Paul II and all of those others at Assisi last week proclaimed.  It is never right to use violence in the name of God.  Never can God be invoked in support of violence. 

     Last Tuesday, I had the opportunity to participate in a program at Henry Ford Community College.  There was a Muslim imam, a Jewish rabbi, and myself.  Each of us was asked to express in as succinct a way as possible: What is the real part of the message of your religious tradition?  What is it that makes you specifically a Christian, or a Muslim, or a Jew?

     It was extremely interesting and profoundly moving to hear the three of us trying to get at the heart of what our religious tradition says.  And I guess it really should not surprise us.  We each were saying that at the heart of our religious tradition is a God of love, a God who is revealed to us as love and calls us to follow the way of love -- not the way of hatred or violence or killing, but the way of love.  We must heed that message.

     God is revealed in every religious tradition.  For us, it is proclaimed so clearly by Saint John -- “God is love, and where there is love, there is God.”  That’s the truth in every tradition. 

     If only we can come together on the basis of our common acceptance of a God who is love, how quickly we could heal the divisions in our world.  How quickly we could overcome the hatred and rid ourselves of the violence that threatens to destroy this world that God has given to us. 

     Today, as we listen to God’s word and realize how timely it is, we must listen deeply in our hearts and allow ourselves to be changed.  We must turn from any kind of violence or hatred to forgiveness and love and reconciliation.  We must do that, each of us, individually.  We must follow this light who is Jesus and follow God who is love.  We must try to persuade our whole community, the community of our nation, that we are not going to end terrorism with terrorism.  We are not going to end violence with violence and we are not going to heal the divisions in the world by highlighting our differences. 

     It is only in peace that we can come together as one community and family.  This is how the reign of God can really happen.  It is only when all of us recognize that the root of our faith life is a God who is love that we can come together.  For those of us who are Christians, it is made so clear in Jesus who is our light and our way to reconciliation, peace and love.

     Jesus is the way to make the reign of God happen. 

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

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