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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. 
February 3, 2002
Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

This week's readings **

Zephaniah 2:3; 3:12-13

Seek Yahweh, all you humble of the land, who have kept his ordinances. Seek justice. Seek humility. It may be that you will be sheltered in the day of the Lord's anger.

But I will leave as a remnant in your midst an afflicted and poor people, and they will take refuge in the name of the Lord.  The remnant of Israel will not do harm, nor speak lies, neither will a deceitful tongue be found in their mouth, for they will feed and couch their flocks, and no one will make them afraid." 

1 Corinthians 1:26-31

Consider your own calling, brothers and sisters, that not many are wise according to human standard, not many are mighty, and not many are noble; but God chose the foolish of the world that he might put to shame those who are wise. God chose the weak of the world, that he might put to shame those that are strong; and God chose the lowly of the world, and those that are despised, and those who count for nothing, that he might bring to nothing those who are something; that no human being should boast before God. Because of him, you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, as well as righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, so that, as it is written, "Whoever boasts, should boast in the Lord." 

Matthew 5:1-12a

Seeing the multitudes, Jesus went up onto the mountain. When he had sat down, his disciples came to him. He opened his mouth and taught them, saying, 

"Blessed are the poor in spirit, For theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. 

Blessed are those who mourn, For they shall be comforted. 

Blessed are the gentle, For they shall inherit the earth. 

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, For they shall be filled. 

Blessed are the merciful, For they shall obtain mercy. 

Blessed are the pure in heart, For they shall see God. 

Blessed are the peacemakers, For they shall be called children of God. 

Blessed are those who have been persecuted for righteousness' sake, For theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. 

Blessed are you when people reproach you, persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven." 

* 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).


Back  in the 1980’s, a Lutheran pastor, who during World War II had been in the death camp of Dachau in Germany, traveled throughout the United States and preached at various churches. This was a time when both the United States and the Soviet Union were increasing their armaments at a rapid pace. 

     This pastor, Martin Neumeller, was preaching about the Beatitudes and about building peace in the world.  In his sermon, he started off by sharing something about his own life.  He told how, when he was a boy during World War I, the Sermon on the Mount was seen as suspended for the duration of earthly existence.  Theologians spoke openly about a moratorium on it, not realizing that by doing that they were giving Hitler and his brand of fascism a green light.  They were asking: How can you love your enemy in this world?  But by doing so, they were postponing the commands and the teachings of Jesus until the next world. 

     Then he said, “It was a moment of great significant for me when in my bunker cell in Dachau I saw a fellow prisoner being hanged outside my window.  My first thought was: ‘poor fellow.’ And then I thought: ‘this damn gang of murderers.’  But, suddenly, a new thought bolted thru my whole being.  What if Jesus had proclaimed such a thing when he was dying on the cross?  If Jesus had wanted to reach out in violence to those who were killing him, there would be no forgiveness, no shalom, no peace, ever.”

     He said, “From that moment on, I understood that Jesus meant what he said.” He understood our human reality, but in that reality he really meant what he said.” 

     That moment in 1944, when he was 52 years old, that moment turned Martin Neumuller completely inside out.  He came to a whole new understanding that Jesus meant what he said:  Blessed are those who are poor in spirit, blessed are the gentle, blessed are those who suffer, blessed are those who work for justice, hunger and thirst for justice, blessed are the peacemakers, those who give up violence and follow the ways of Jesus.

     I think this story is very important for all of us.  I have a sense that many times we want to think that the Sermon on the Mount, these words of Jesus that we heard proclaimed today, is for sometime after this life. We want to put a moratorium on it and say he couldn’t have expected ordinary people to follow that way. 

     But if you look carefully at Matthew’s gospel, you will find that Matthew seems very intent on trying to make sure that we truly understand that Jesus meant what he said.  Matthew was writing to a Jewish community and to them this would have been very significant.  He has Jesus go up on the mountainside.  Remember, it was Moses who proclaimed the law to the chosen people from the mountain. The law of God was given on the mountain.  So Matthew is saying:  Here’s the new law of God now being proclaimed by Jesus, the Son of God, from the mountaintop.

     According to Matthew’s thinking, Jesus is the new Moses and he proclaims this new message for us.

     In Matthew’s gospel, this is the first of five long sermons that Matthew puts into that gospel.  And so it’s clear he’s trying to show us that he’s proclaiming a teaching that comes from God.  This is similar to the first five books of the Bible, which are the five books that the chosen people follow.  Jesus is teaching through five very important sermons and this is the first.  And so Matthew is trying to impress upon us, “Yes, Jesus meant this.” 

     Just as God had proclaimed on Mount Sinai with the first set of commandments, God was speaking through Jesus.  Here is the new way, the way of Jesus.

     This message of Jesus is very important for us this week.  It’s so timely that we have this message when, during the past week, there were two events that should have challenged us to reflect on God’s way as proclaimed by Jesus.

     The first was last Tuesday night when President Bush spoke to the nation. The whole first part of his speech was a glorification of war.  We were triumphant and we could be proud and happy of how we destroyed those evil people in Afghanistan, although, he never mentioned what also happened in Afghanistan. 

     This past week, also, there was an article in the press about some visitors who went to Afghanistan to make a health assessment in Mazare Sharif and Kabul, as well as other parts of the country.  They said, “We came away staggered by the enormity of the destruction, suffering and need in this ruined land. There have been thousands and thousands of people killed.” 

     We don’t hear about that.  President Bush made no mention of that.  It’s as though we accomplished our purpose over there and left everything in great order.  It’s not true.  It’s a ruined land. 

     Around the city of Harat, there is a refugee camp of almost 300,000 people.  But aid cannot get to them.  They are freezing to death, dying of starvation. One of the reasons is that there four thousand unexploded cluster bombs around that area.  So aid workers cannot get through. It will take eight to ten months to clear the area of those unexploded cluster bombs. 

     Cluster bombs are among the most terrible anti-personnel weapons that you could use. When you touch them, they explode and then many, many tiny bomblets burst forth. They strike people and tear them in two, tear off an arm, destroying people.

     It’s a ruined land and we say we’re triumphant.  We didn’t follow the way of Jesus by any means. 

     And what seems to me to be so striking about what President Bush said for ourselves is that I don’t think he ever said we have peace.   He said we’re getting security.  But Jesus didn’t say:  Blessed are the security makers.   No, Jesus said:  Blessed are the peacemakers.  It’s very different. 

     To try to pretend that we’re going to get security for ourselves is an illusion.  It won’t happen. Even though we are now going to spend 450 billion dollars for armaments and weapons of destruction, it will not bring us security. That’s not how you build peace in the world; simply trying to get security for yourself by trying to build a wall around yourself somehow and protect yourself from everyone else in the world.  It won’t happen. We won’t have security and, certainly, we won’t have peace. 

     That’s why it’s so important for us to begin to pray deeply about this message of Jesus, a message where he tells us we must reject violence, love your enemy, do good to the ones who hurt you, return good for evil. We must listen to his message.  It’s the only way we will get real peace for ourselves and for the world. 

     The other thing that happened this week that should give us pause as we reflect upon the message of Jesus today is the World Economic Forum that took place in New York City. People from all over the world come together, but these are very powerful people in the world’s estimation of powerful people.  They have wealth.  They are the leaders of nations, especially the rich nations. They gather and exchange ideas about the world economic order, but there is nowhere in their discussions where they talk about the four-fifths of the world’s people who are desperately hungry and the one-fifth who are in absolute poverty. 

     Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice.  The Bible’s idea of justice is that you organize the world so that all of us have a right relationship with God and with our neighbor, that everyone in the world has a chance to make use of the resources of the world that are given by God for all.

     Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice’s sake.  That’s not what we heard from our leaders who spoke at the World Economic Forum. Our Secretary of the Treasury almost indicated:   It’s too bad about those nations that are suffering right now, we have to look out for ourselves. 

     These two ideas really go together.   To be a peacemaker, you must hunger and thirst for justice.  If we don’t do something about the gross inequality in the world, there will continue to be violence and tensions all over the world.  We must hear Jesus, hunger and thirst for justice, make a right order in the world between ourselves and God and among all of our brothers and sisters throughout this planet. 

     Only when we begin to hear deeply what Jesus is saying to us can we hope that the reign of God will really break forth in our world and that we could begin to have a world where we wouldn’t be desperately trying to have security for ourselves and never have peace. We could have a world where there is peace, but it’s only if we follow the way of Jesus.

     Almost 2 years ago, Pope John Paul visited the Holy Land and he preached a sermon on the Mount of the Beatitudes, a place where Jesus first proclaimed the words that we heard today.  And part of his message is this:  “Jesus’ call has always demanded a choice between the two voices competing for your hearts.  Even now, on this hill, the choice between good and evil, between life and death, which voice will the young people of the 21st century choose to follow?  To put your faith in Jesus means choosing to believe what Jesus says, no matter how strange it may seem, and choosing to reject the claims of the world, no matter how sensible and attractive they may seem.”

     The choice is very clear and John Paul is saying, “What about the young people of the 21st century? Which choice will they follow?” 

     That’s a very important question for us.  I think it’s highlighted today by the fact we’re going to baptize a new member for our parish family. What choice will our newest member follow?  Well it depends an awful lot on what choice you and I make, which way we follow.  If we can follow the ways of Jesus, even if they seem strange, almost foolish, and reject the ways of the world, which sometimes seem so wise but are foolish, if all of us can make that choice and follow Jesus, then we will be building our community in a way that the young people will see that the way of Jesus is the way they must choose.  They will grow up making the choice to follow Jesus.

     Perhaps, we can hope, that as they grow up and follow the way of Jesus, that we can really build a world where the reign of God will break forth and we can have peace and justice -- as all of us work together to follow the way of Jesus. 

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

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