|You may remember two weeks ago that I read
part of a letter from a young woman in New York City whose brother had
been killed in the destruction of the World Trade Towers. She described
how her family went through a kind of grief and pain you cannot really
put into words. She also described how they spent a lot of time talking
with each other, trying to come to some common understanding of how they
should react - with hatred and violence or with a spirit of forgiveness.
They couldn’t come to total consensus. But some of them got to the
point where she wrote in the letter “My youngest sister feels that in the
face of this horrible evil the only way to change people is to show them
love not more evil.” Christ like, yes, foolish and naïve in human
terms, no, not when you really think of it.”
Then she went on a little further, “Personally,
I adamantly oppose the bombing. I have no other argument than it
is not Christ like. I do not know what Christ would do in these current
times, but I am certain that he would not advocate the bombing of anyone.
The deepest, truest part of our collective heart knows this truth. You
and I and my family live in a very human world, however, so how can we
reach this true place?”
And then she comes to a kind of point in the
letter because she wrote it before the bishops’ meeting was to take place.
“One stumbling block seems to be the lack of choices given the American
public concerning our response to September 11. Our country sees
no other way because we have been presented with no other way. And
this is my urgent request of the bishops: Can you begin the discussion
of the other way, Christ’s way? Can you help provide moral guidance
to a majority that is supporting, voicing support for a bombing campaign?”
Well I took that letter to the bishops’ meeting
and I shared parts of it with the whole body of bishops as we were discussing
what should be the response of our church of the community of the disciples
of Jesus to the violence that had been perpetrated against us. And
I wish could tell you that the whole body of bishops said, “Yes, we really
need to follow the nonviolent way of Jesus.” But, as you know, they
didn’t do that. Instead, publicly, in a formal statement, the bishops of
the United States support the bombing and the warlike response.
I’m suggesting to all of us, today, that if
we really listen deeply to today’s scripture lessons, we will discover
that what this young woman wrote is really the way of Jesus and that there
is no other way if we want to be faithful to Jesus Christ.
First of all, and this is the real challenge
to our faith, in considering these lessons today, look at what Paul wrote
to that church at Colossae, a community of Christian disciples like ourselves.
He was trying to show them who Jesus really is, “Son of God empowered.”
It’s a magnificent statement about Jesus that deserves our constant reflection
when we really say that we follow Jesus. This Jesus “rescued us from
the power of darkness, transferred us into the kingdom of God, in him we
are redeemed and forgiven.” Then he goes on to describe who Jesus
is, “the image of the invisible God.” Jesus, here among us, is who
If you want to understand God in our world,
if you really want to know who God is, then you look at Jesus. He’s
the image of the invisible God. In him all things were created. Jesus
is before all of the universe, before time. Paul is saying that Jesus
is responsible for creation. All was made through him and for him.
He is before all and everything holds together in him. He sustains
all of us, every moment of our life. “Jesus is God,” that’s what
Paul is saying. He is the first raised from the dead that he may
be the first in everything.
And so, through faith, we begin to have a clear
grasp of who Jesus is. But can we really accept this that Jesus Christ,
born of Mary, lived in our world and is Son of God empowered?
But then, as Paul concludes that passage, he
reminds us that through Jesus God willed to reconcile all things to himself
and through him. That through his blood shed on the cross, God establishes
peace on earth and in heaven.
That’s what we need to know about Jesus.
He is the son of God and yet he came into this world and became one of
us in every way except sin. Jesus came to establish God’s peace here
It reminds me of the words we say at the Eucharist
in the preface: Almighty and ever powerful God, it is well that we
give thanks to you always. In Jesus, your son, you have renewed all
things and you have given us all a share in his riches. Though his
nature was divine, he stripped himself of glory and by shedding his blood
on the cross he brought his peace to the world.
This draws us into the gospel lesson today.
And again this is a very profound challenge to our faith. Are we
going to except Jesus, Son of God empowered? But also the Jesus who
is hanging on the cross with people jeering at him and mocking him.
Jesus, who is in every human way totally powerless, being tortured, being
executed as a criminal?
That’s Jesus Christ, Son of God. This
is what our faith challenges us to accept.
And as he’s hanging there, being executed,
suffering indescribable agony, what does he do? He prays, “God forgive
them.” The very ones who are putting him to death, he prays for them
and asks God, “Forgive them.” This is how Jesus, by shedding his
blood on the cross, brings his peace to the world. It’s by reaching
out in love and forgiveness and reconciliation to the very ones who torment
him, who do violence against him, who kill him. He reaches out in
Could it be any clearer to us? The message
that God is telling us: If you want to establish peace on earth,
the way of Jesus is the way of peace, forgiveness, love and reconciliation,
and there is no other way.
It all seems so clear when you listen to the
Gospel. The criminal hanging next to Jesus suddenly had an insight
of faith which I hope all of us will have this morning, the same profound
insight. Suddenly, that man hanging on the cross recognized that
this is the Son of God. He recognized what Jesus was doing, that
Jesus was changing our world dramatically, showing us a whole new way to
bring peace and justice, to make the reign of God happen.
It’s by forgiveness and love that that man
recognized the Son of God in the criminal who was powerless and yet who
was demonstrating a power that goes beyond any human power, the power of
love. Jesus was showing that everything could be changed through
the power of love and through nothing else.
Don’t we have to ask ourselves, “Why can we
not hear this message? Why do we keep resisting it?” It seems
so clear. That criminal on the cross saw it. He was ready to
recognize Jesus and say, “I’ll follow you. Bring me into paradise
with you.” That’s what we have to try to say this morning, that we
want to follow Jesus.
I find it so troubling that we say so readily,
“Well there aren’t any alternatives. You have to do it the way we’re
doing it.” And yet we don’t always say that. Our own government leaders
who say, “We must bomb and destroy in order to bring peace,” also say to
the Israelis and the Palestinians, “No more bombing, no more killing, negotiate.
That’s the only way you’re going to resolve your conflict.” And it’s
true. It’s the only way they will resolve it.
We sent one of our prominent leaders over to
Ireland, Senator George Mitchell, because of the violence there.
And we say to both sides, “No, don’t try to resolve your problems through
bombing and killing and terrorism. Negotiate, reach out to forgive,
So in other circumstances, our government leaders
seem to be able to understand it. Yet, you wonder what it is in this
instance that blocks us.
Perhaps it is a deep sense of wanting to get
even, retaliation. Or perhaps there’s some hidden agenda about wanting
to get control of another very large oil resource over there in that area,
east of the Middle East.
Maybe there is a hidden agenda. But whatever
it is, somehow, when it comes to ourselves, we are not able to say that
the way of Jesus is the only way to bring peace, through nonviolence, to
forgiveness, through love.
There are of course others who have discovered
that this is the way.
If you read in the Acts of the Apostles, right
at the beginning of the church, Stephen imitated Jesus extraordinarily
as he was being stoned to death. He prayed, “Father, forgive them.”
Or in our own time, Oscar Romero proclaimed, “As a shepherd, I am obliged
by divine mandate to give my life for those I love, that is, for those
who may be going to kill me.” The first ones he thinks of: “Those
who may be going to kill me. I give my life for them.”
Some people seem to have heard the message
of Jesus and are ready to follow it.
Today, I believe that our scripture lessons
challenge us to discover more deeply who Jesus really is, the Son of God
empowered, but also the one hanging on the cross reaching out in love and
forgiveness. We must not only, in faith, discover who Jesus is, but
we also must pray for the courage, each of us, to follow him in every way
possible in our daily lives, where we work, where we go to school, where
we mingle in our neighborhoods. But also, as a nation, we need to follow
the way of Jesus in order to bring his peace to the world.
The first lesson today gives us a kind of final
picture to take with us of how we might be able to come up with that faith
and that courage to follow Jesus. All of those tribes who had been
fighting with one another came together and discovered in each other, “You
are bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh. We unite now, we are one
Well, this morning, we gather around this altar,
we receive the body and blood of Jesus Christ, and we become bone of his
bone and flesh of his flesh, and are united with one another in a beautiful
and powerful way. Perhaps, as we celebrate this Eucharist today and
acknowledge that we are bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh, we will
be able to summon up within us the faith and the courage to follow this
Jesus with whom we are so deeply united in this Eucharist.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and
of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
[Editorial Note: A letter follows that was distributed
by Bishop Gumbleton at his parish church last Sunday.]
Today is the Feast of Christ the King.
This is a relatively new feast in the Church's calendar, and one that gives
a very ambiguous message about Jesus. Obviously, those who established
this feast in the early 20th century felt that such a feast would be an
appropriate way to honor Jesus. Historically kings and queens are
considered to be important personages, deserving of special honor.
Usually they are thought of as people with power and wealth. But
the Gospels make clear that Jesus rejected the idea of being a king, or
anything like a king. One time when, in their enthusiasm for him,
the crowds were intending to declare him their king, he slipped away and
hid from them.
Jesus makes it very clear that any excess wealth
is not what he wants. He prefers to be poor and to be among the poor
and to support the poor. When it comes to power and prestige, Jesus
shows us a the last supper that he chooses instead to be a servant, in
fact, a slave. He washes his disciples feet!
And clearly he does not want to rule over anybody,
or, in his words, "lord it over" anyone. When the disciples were
arguing about who would have the place of power ~ sit at his right hand
~ he become angry at them for so misunderstanding his message. "Among
the pagans," he told them, "those in authority lord it over the others,
but among you it cannot be that way. Instead those who lead must
be the servants of all." Clearly Jesus rejects any "kingship."
Why then, do we insist on calling him King and even have a feast to celebrate
him as a king?
Is it because we really do not want to hear
his message? If he is a king then, our attachment to wealth, prestige
and power do not seem so wrong. It is much easier to follow a king
and to be at ease with our going after wealth and prestige and power than
to be as "the servant of all" and to be in solidarity with the poor and
Maybe through prayer and God's help we can
choose to follow Jesus despite the contradictions presented by this feast