The Peace Pulpit:  Homiles by Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton

  The Epiphany of the Lord January 2, 2005

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 here five days after they are given, always on Friday.
This week's readings **
Is 60:1-6
Rise up in splendor, Jerusalem! Your light has come, the glory of the Lord shines upon you. See, darkness covers the earth, and thick clouds cover the peoples; but upon you the LORD shines, and over you appears his glory. Nations shall walk by your light, and kings by your shining radiance. Raise your eyes and look about; they all gather and come to you: your sons come from afar, and your daughters in the arms of their nurses. Then you shall be radiant at what you see, your heart shall throb and overflow, for the riches of the sea shall be emptied out before you, the wealth of nations shall be brought to you. Caravans of camels shall fill you, dromedaries from Midian and Ephah; all from Sheba shall come bearing gold and frankincense, and proclaiming the praises of the LORD.

Eph 3:2-3a, 5-6
Brothers and sisters: You have heard of the stewardship of God's grace that was given to me for your benefit, namely, that the mystery was made known to me by revelation. It was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: that the Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body, and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

Mt 2:1-12
When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of King Herod, behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, "Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage." When King Herod heard this, he was greatly troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. Assembling all the chief priests and the scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They said to him, "In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it has been written through the prophet: And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; since from you shall come a ruler, who is to shepherd my people Israel." Then Herod called the magi secretly and ascertained from them the time of the star's appearance. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, "Go and search diligently for the child. When you have found him, bring me word, that I too may go and do him homage." After their audience with the king they set out. And behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them, until it came and stopped over the place where the child was. They were overjoyed at seeing the star, and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage. Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their country by another way.

* 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).

** The Web link to Pax Christi is provided as a service to our readers.

There's no way to speak about what has been happening in the southern part of Asia during the past 10 days or so other than to speak about it as an almost unbelievable disaster. It is impossible for us, I think, even to grasp the enormity of what has happened and continues to happen there. The numbers of people are beyond our ability, I think, even to react emotionally. When numbers are that huge you just can't deal with it. But one of the things that has come out of this, I believe is the awareness of how unimportant, how totally insignificant, are the barriers that we set up between one group, one nation, one ethnic group and another.

Look at some of the accounts of the tsunami, not just of the total disaster but of individuals. The father who lost all of his children and his wife and his home. He is totally alone and suffering beyond comprehension. Or the mother I read about, perhaps you did, too. She was holding two of her children and hanging on trying to resist the pressure of the water and knew she could not hold both and had to let one go. What an almost impossible situation to be in, that have to make such a decision. Or the orphans that you read about now. These kids survived somehow but their families and their homes, they are gone. When you read about the disaster in these individual terms, whether these people are of this nation or that nation, whether they are of this color or of that color, whether they are of this religion or of that religion, it doesn't make any difference, does it? They are human persons, part of this one human family. And thank God now the whole human family is responding with generosity, concern and care, trying to do something to alleviate the suffering, to overcome this disaster.

I mention that, because I think it is a good way to begin our reflection on the message of today's scripture. It is an understanding of the scriptures that, perhaps, will seem new to some of us. Most of us have always just taken the story of The Magi -- or The Wise Men or astrologers from the east as they are sometimes called - in its simplicity: People come sort of out of nowhere, bring gifts to Jesus and give them to him. Then the go back and disappear out of history. It's a beautiful story, but there is a lot more to it. What it is, is Matthew describing and trying to make concrete the message that we heard from St. Paul writing to the church at Ephesus. Paul wrote: "This is the good news of which I have become a minister by the gift of God. Here is the good news; now the non-Jewish people share the inheritance. In Christ Jesus, all people are incorporated and are to enjoy the promise."

That was extraordinary, an extraordinary message and truly good news. Paul had been given, what he called an unusual, extraordinary revelation. He received it at the time of his conversion; he understood that Jesus came not for the few, not for the chosen people but for all. What Paul said was that everyone is now incorporated in Jesus and is to enjoy the promise.

Jesus entered into human history, became one of us, fully human in every way, so that every human everywhere would be able to participate in the divine life of God. The good news is that there are no barriers of religion, race, and ethnicity. Nothing can separate or should separate anyone in the human family from anyone else in the human family. We are all sons and daughters of God. The one God is the God of everyone.

That is what Matthew was trying to bring forth in the Gospel lessons that we heard today. If you remember as I've mentioned sometimes in the past, Matthew's Gospel was written late in the first century and was written mostly for Jewish Christians, those who were still in the area around Jerusalem, Galilee and Judea. These Jewish Christians had a very narrow understanding of what God intended by sending Jesus into the world. They thought that the followers of Jesus still had to be Jews before they could be Christians. They wanted to limit the saving love of God to only those who would be circumcised, who would follow the full Jewish law but then accept Jesus as their savior.

To tell his story, Matthew drew from roots in the Hebrew Scriptures, as we heard in the first lesson today, the magnificent vision of Isaiah where Isaiah sees Jerusalem as this city that is a light to the whole world and people come flocking from everywhere. Matthew is saying in effect to the Jewish Christians of his day and to the Jewish people, "Look, that vision has been fulfilled. People from everywhere are now part of God's people. There are no more chosen people, elite, separated people. Everyone is called by God to share in God's life and be a son or daughter of God. That is why Matthew has these outsiders come to visit Jesus. All people are coming to receive the benefit of God's love, he said.

That was a shocking message to those first Jewish Christians, and perhaps it is a shocking message to some of us. We think that if I belong to the Catholic Church, if I'm a Christian, I am saved. But that's not it. God's salvation reaches out to everyone. Everyone! There is no limit to God's love. No limit to those to whom God's good news is proclaimed. No limit to those who are incorporated into the life of Jesus.

Later in Matthew's Gospel, you probably remember because this is such a well known passage, Jesus tells the parable of the goats and sheep that makes so clear that Jesus lives in everyone, especially the poor and the oppressed. "When I was hungry you gave me to eat. When I was thirsty you gave me to drink." Jesus lives in the poor, the oppressed everywhere and in all people.

The message of God's love, the good news, is that all of us; every part of the human family is a member of the family of God. Why then do we evangelize? I'm sure you've noticed how at the end of our prayers of petition, we always add a prayer about our evangelization and our commitment to carry the good news where we can. Well, the reason we do that is because it is important for everyone in so far as possible to understand the reality we proclaimed on Christmas. That is the reality Paul addresses in his letter to the Hebrews when he says, "In past times, in various places God was revealed partially. Here and there people came to understand and to know God, but now in Jesus, God is fully revealed."

If you want to know God you must know Jesus. That's where you come to understand God in so far as you can. You come to know God in Jesus. The more we know Jesus, the more we become like him. The more our whole world will be transformed into the reign of God. Jesus calls us to be his disciples to know the Good News explicitly; that God is revealed in him. And we carry that message where ever we can. We don't try to draw people into our church necessarily. If they want to come that's fine, but the main thing is we want the good news to be known. We want everyone to know that Jesus is the full revelation of God and that as we follow Jesus the reign of God can happen. So we commit ourselves to the task of evangelization, but at the same time we continue to have this conviction that gives us great hope for our whole human family that God does live in all of us and that God is revealed in every religious tradition. God is revealed in various ways at various times in various circumstances. That we can all learn from one another to know God more deeply until we come to know God fully in Jesus.

I hope that as we reflect on what is the real message of today, the good news that God lives in everyone, that we will continue to work to break down the barriers that some time separate us by race, by ethnicity, by geographical location, whatever it is. I hope that we work to eliminate all those barriers and that we spread the good news about what God has done for the whole human family and that those of us who know Jesus and know God fully in Jesus continue to spread that message about Jesus.

I hope we will commit ourselves to our work of spreading the good news of who Jesus is and what God's love really means and that we can help to transform our world into the reign of God where peace and justice, love, goodness will prevail until we all enter into the fullness of God's light forever.

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

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