|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,
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
“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
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
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
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.