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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. 
December 16, 2001
The Third Sunday of Advent

This week's readings **

Isaiah 35:1-6a,10

The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad; and the desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose.  It shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing.  The glory of Lebanon shall be given to them, the splendor of Carmel and Sharon; they shall see the glory of the Lord, the splendor of our
God.  Strengthen the weak hands and make firm the feeble knees.  Say to those that are of a fearful heart, "Be strong, fear not.  Behold, your God will come
with vengeance, with the recompense of God; he will come and save you."  Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be cleared.  Then shall the lame man leap as a hart, and the tongue of the mute shall sing.  And the ransomed of the Lord shall return and enter Zion singing.  And everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

James 5:7-10

Be patient, brothers and sisters, until the coming of the Lord.  See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient over it, until it receives the early and latter rain.  You also must be patient; make firm your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.  Murmur not, brothers and sisters, one against another, that you be not judged.  Behold, the Judge is standing before the doors.  Take for an example, brothers and sisters, of suffering and of patience, the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 

Matthew 11:2-11

When John the Baptist heard in prison of the works of the Christ, he sent his disciples to Jesus and said unto him, "Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?"  And Jesus answered and said to them, "Go and tell John the things which you hear and see:  the blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good tidings preached to them.  And blessed is the one who shall find no occasion of stumbling in me."

And as they went their way, Jesus began to speak to the multitudes about John.  "What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken with the wind?  But what did you go out to see?  A man dressed in fine clothing?  Behold, they that wear fine clothing are in king's houses.  Then why did you go out? To see a prophet?  Yes, I say to you, and much more than a prophet.  This is he, of whom it is written:  Behold, I send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.  Verily I say to you, among those that are born of women, there has not arisen a greater one than John the Baptist; yet the one that is but little in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he."

* 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).


[Editorial Note:  By special arrangement, we will be able to post the homily for the Fourth Sunday of Advent on Monday, the day after it is given, rather than wait until after Christmas.]

The very last words of the message Jesus sent John the Baptist were certainly a great blessing for him, but also a challenge.  Jesus said, and he was speaking this to John, “Blessed is the one who is not scandalized in me.”  The word scandalize refers to a stumbling block.  So Jesus is saying, “Blessed is the one who does not find me a stumbling block, someone I cannot cope with.” 

     We might be surprised to think that John the Baptist could have been scandalized at Jesus, could have found Jesus a stumbling block for himself.  Yet, if you look into the situation of John at that moment, it certainly is very possible that he wasn’t ready to hear what Jesus was saying.  That he was finding Jesus a stumbling block. 

     John had been such a great prophet.  Crowds of people in huge numbers were coming to hear him.  He was proclaiming God’s word and had stepped aside for Jesus and pointed him out as the one who was to come.  But now John is in jail and that must have been a very humiliating situation for John, very debilitating.  

     I’m sure that jails were very cruel.  The situation of being in jail can be physically very difficult.  And John probably was wondering if he had made a mistake.  He was truly expecting Jesus to come and make the reign of God happen.  Yet, it hadn’t.  

     At that time, as you may know, there were lots of different ideas about what the messiah would be like when the messiah finally came.  There were those who thought that the messiah would be from the priestly class, someone who was rich, wealthy, privileged.  Others thought the messiah would be a great prophet leader, like Moses, who would take the chosen people to a whole new way of life.  Others thought the messiah would be a warrior king like David who would overthrow the oppressors and establish the reign of God through physical power and violence. 

     John might have expected Jesus to come and free him from jail.  But what does Jesus say to John?  “Go and tell John what’s happening right now. Tell John what’s happening.  Blind people are being given their sight.  Lame people are able to walk.  Those who are deaf can now hear.”  And maybe, most importantly, “The poor are having the good news proclaimed to them.”  Jesus is telling John very plainly that the reign of God is happening. 

     John knew his scriptures.  When he heard those words, he surely would have thought of that passage from Isaiah, which was our first reading today, where Isaiah proclaims how the blind are to receive their new sight and so on.  But in that passage Isaiah also says, “The wilderness and the arid land rejoice.  The desert will be glad and blossom.  Where there was nothing but aridness, now there will be life.  It will be covered with flowers.  The desert itself will sing and shout with joy.  They my people will see the glory of God.”  

     John also knew the passage where Isaiah proclaims, “The spirit of God is upon me. God sends me to proclaim good news to the poor.”  John was being challenged by Jesus to recognize that the reign of God really was happening and that John should have no reason to doubt Jesus and that Jesus was indeed the one who was to come. 

     Now if we think about the situation of John and project it into our own time, when we live in a period of violence, suffering and death, terrible violence in the whole world around us, perhaps we have some of the same doubts as John.  Are you the one who is to come?  Is Jesus really the one who is to transform our whole world into the reign of God?  Is the way of Jesus really the way to bring peace, to bring fullness of life, to bring joy into our lives and into our world?  
Or are we finding ourselves perhaps scandalized at Jesus?   Finding Jesus a stumbling block when he tells us to love your enemy, do good to the one who hurts you, return good for evil?

     Maybe we want a messiah who is like a warrior king.  And, yet, could we really visualize Jesus, a Jesus who reaches out to the poor, the marginalized?  Jesus who heals and who gives life?  Could we ever visualize Jesus as a warrior, one calling up a whole arsenal of weapons to rain death and destruction on other people?  Could we think of Jesus calling forth B-52 bombers, fuel air explosives, the most sophisticated and destructive arsenal that ever existed?  Could we really think of Jesus that way, as we’ve come to know Jesus through the gospel?  

     But the problem is:  Are you and I truly ready to accept who Jesus is?  This messiah who isn’t a warrior king?  Who empties himself and becomes poor?  Who becomes the servant of everyone?  Are we really ready to accept that kind of Jesus?

     Especially with what’s happened during this past week, it must be extraordinarily difficult for those who suffered the loss of someone on September 11 to have heard the words of Osama bin Ladin.  It must fill their hearts with extreme anguish to see the television where he is laughing and rejoicing at what happened, maybe anger or a deep desire to get even.  Yet, this Jesus, who is the one to come, still says, “No, that is not the way.”  Retaliation, revenge, destruction, these are not the way to Jesus as he reveals himself to John today and as he continually reveals himself to us through the gospel. 

     But is Jesus a stumbling block for me?  That’s the question I have to ask.  

     I find it helpful to know that there are people that have experienced first hand the grief and suffering of September 11 and yet who say, “I will follow the way of Jesus.”  

     Just this past week, I heard from a friend of mine who is on the staff of a college.  He told me that they had a memorial service there because one of the other staff members (teacher) at the college had a daughter who was killed on September 11.  And this father, who experienced that terrible loss, spoke at the memorial service.  Here’s part of what he said. “As the war goes on and the violence makes way toward more violence, I feel the sad irony of the season of peace and joy.  How many truly know the meaning of peace and have experienced the fullness of joy where peace is not merely the absence of war or a ceasefire in the midst of battle?  Or the perpetual readiness for war with nuclear missiles aimed at strategic targets around the world?  

     Peace is that feeling of God within us and the faith that God will guide us toward love and understanding.  Peace exists in the absence of hate, distrust, jealousy, anger, revenge, avarice and fear.  Peace comes from being in harmony with all of God’s creation and feeling the connectedness to all of life.  

     Waging war on other peoples because we don’t understand them is not the way toward peaceful coexistence.  This is the chosen way of cavemen and primitive cultures throughout history and we continue to perpetuate this atrocity by narrow-mindedly viewing solutions that do not solve the underlying problems.

     Martin Luther King, Jr. summed it up better than I possibly could when he stated, ‘The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy.  Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it through violence.  You may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate.  In fact, violence merely increases hate.  Returning violence for violence, multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.  Darkness cannot drive out hate.  Only love can do that.’

     The tragic events of September 11 and the loss of our dear daughter will forever change the world.  There exists within each of us an opportunity to strive for new understanding, to raise human consciousness, to grow in love directed by God’s truth, to reach out to our brothers and sisters from around the world, to make a difference in ways that will ultimately lead to peace and harmony, and to experience the joy of heaven here on earth. 

     By our choices and our actions, we can make a difference.  May God be with all of us in this time of spiritual transformation and may you feel God’s love within your hearts, see God’s truth within your mind, and experience the true peace and ultimate joy that comes from God throughout the season in which we celebrate the birth of the Christ Child on this earth and within each of us.”

     This is a person who did not find Jesus a stumbling block.  He’s ready to accept the way of Jesus and knows that even the death of his daughter can be something that can be transformed into a gift of new life.  If we are willing to follow the way of Jesus, then we can really bring peace into our world.  If we want a warrior king, one who uses violence, there will be no peace.  Each of us, I think, has to ask ourselves:  How do we respond when Jesus says, ‘Blessed is the one who is not scandalized in me.’ 

     Is Jesus a stumbling block or is he, for each of us, the way to peace?  Only you and I can answer that question in our own hearts.  But if we really answer the question and commit ourselves to follow the way of Jesus, just as this father found peace in his heart, so will we find peace in our heart.  And we will be able then to bring that peace into our world. 

     Blessed are all of us who do not find Jesus to be a stumbling block, but rather find Jesus as the way to peace.

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

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