The Peace Pulpit:  Homiles by Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton

  The Baptism of the Lord January 9, 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 **
Isaiah 42:1-4, 6-7
"Behold, My Servant, whom I uphold; My chosen one in whom My soul delights I have put My Spirit upon Him; He will bring forth justice to the nations. "He will not cry out or raise His voice, Nor make His voice heard in the street. "A bruised reed He will not break And a dimly burning wick He will not extinguish; He will faithfully bring forth justice. "He will not be disheartened or crushed Until He has established justice in the earth; And the (I)coastlands will wait expectantly for His law."

Acts 10:34-38
Opening his mouth, Peter said: "I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him. "The word which He sent to the sons of Israel, preaching peace through Jesus Christ (He is Lord of all)-- you yourselves know the thing which took place throughout all Judea, starting from Galilee, after the baptism which John proclaimed. "You know of Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him.

Matthew 3:13-17
Then Jesus arrived from Galilee at the Jordan coming to John, to be baptized by him. But John tried to prevent Him, saying, "I have need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?" But Jesus answering said to him, "Permit it at this time; for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness." Then he permitted Him. After being baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove and lighting on Him, and behold, a voice out of the heavens said, "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased."

* 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.

As we reflect on the scripture lessons today, which concludes the Christmas season, we will be continuing to probe the mystery of Jesus as son of God and son of Mary, the mystery of Jesus who is fully human and yet also totally son of God. But at this point in our reflection on the coming of Jesus into our world, we also look at the event of his baptism, which is recorded in Matthew, Mark and Luke, the three Gospels that kind of go together.

In each of them the scene is a very pivotal point in the life of Jesus, a very important turning point. As we reflect on what is happening here in the life of Jesus, it is important for us to connect it with our own lives, with our baptisms and what that means for each one of us.

There is a difference in the way that Mark describes the baptism of Jesus and the way that Matthew does, which is the same way that Luke does. Mark was written first, very soon after Jesus had died, was risen from the dead and was raised to heaven. The early community at that point was still trying to grapple with the whole idea of who Jesus was. So they were very aware of his humanness. These are disciples who had lived with him and seen him as one like us in every way; they were still trying to get used to the idea that this Jesus is also son of God. Fully divine. In Mark's Gospel as you read about the baptism of Jesus you discover that Jesus, in his humanness, isn't sure about himself and what God wants of him. So when Jesus, in Mark's Gospel, rose from the water, Mark describes what happened as a spiritual experience of Jesus. No one else knew what was happening when Jesus deep in his own spirit heard those words: "Here is my chosen one, my beloved, in whom I am well pleased." Jesus heard that within himself, and because he knew the scriptures so well, he immediately connected them with that passage from Isaiah, which was our first lesson today; "Here is my servant, my chosen one in whom I am well pleased." Jesus began to have a sense of what his call was.

In Matthew's Gospel, as you heard a moment ago, the story is somewhat different. Matthew's Gospel was written quite a bit later than Mark's and by this time the Christian community was totally aware that Jesus was fully God and even put more emphasis on that. It was also a time when the some of the followers of John the Baptist still were refusing to follow Jesus. Matthew has God speaking for everyone to hear. It was a way for the church to declare: "Jesus is God. God says it all here, 'This my beloved, my son, my chosen one in whom I'm well pleased.' " It shows us how gradually the church began to understand Jesus and came to accept fully the profound mystery that Jesus was son of God and son of Mary. Fully human and fully divine. A mystery that we rejoice in and celebrate as we have these past few weeks every year.

The other thing that is so important today is what Jesus heard about himself and what this meant. He was beginning to understand his call. He heard God saying, "You are my beloved, my chosen one in whom I am well pleased." Again I remind you that as Jesus started to reflect on those words, he would have known immediately what they meant. "I, Yahweh, have called you for the sake of justice. I will hold your hand to make you firm. I will make you as a covenant to the people and as a light to the nation to open eyes that do not see, to bring out captives from prison, to bring out to light those who sit in darkness."

Jesus had a mission to change the world, to go out into the world and transform it, but what is especially important, and Jesus had to reflect on this deeply, was how he was to bring justice to all the nations, to be a light for all the nations, for everyone.

How? "Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight. I have put my spirit upon him. He does not shout or raise his voice. Proclamations are not heard in the streets. A broken reed he will not crush nor will he snuff out the light of the wavering wick. He will make justice appear in truth."

It's clear, isn't it, that Jesus has a very special way in which he's called to bring justice. Not by proclamations cried out in the street, a call to war, to violence. That's what those words mean in the Hebrew text. Calling out in the streets was calling people to arms. No, that's not the servant of God. Rather you will act always with gentleness, with love, with compassion, in a nurturing way. He will not quench the wavering flame, but rather nurture it, draw it to fullness. He will not break the bruised reed, but again nurture, bring to life, to care in tenderness and love. That's the way of the servant and clearly Jesus begins to understand that's how he must act. This is how he is to bring true justice which will bring true peace to all the nations. This will truly change our world from a place of violence and hatred, killing and war to as close an image to the reign of God as possible.

For 30 some years, we throughout the world have celebrated on Jan. 1 as a day of special prayer, special work, special commitment for peace. In his peace day statement this year, Pope John Paul II says, "To attain the good of peace there must be a clear and conscious acknowledgment that violence is an unacceptable evil and that it never solves problems." He's picking up on the message of Jesus. Violence is an unacceptable evil. It never solves problems. He goes on to say: "Violence is a lie. It goes against the truth of our faith, the truth of our humanity, the truth about Jesus. Violence destroys what it claims to defend, the dignity, the life, the freedom of human beings. What is needed is a great effort to form consciences and to educate the younger generation to goodness, to nonviolence, to love."

But not just the younger generation. John Paul was looking to the future and is trying to guarantee that we will become a church that will raise our children to reject violence. But each of us must first do that if we're going to be able to be good teachers to our children. We have to reject violence and killing and war. All of that, as John Paul says, is a lie. It can't and never will solve problems.

I mentioned before Mass about the Michigan Peace Team and the display in the back of the church. These are people who say no to violence and with such commitment that they're willing to go and place themselves in places of violence, put themselves between violent factions and preach a different message. The young woman who took these pictures is a Palestinian woman whose home was destroyed. Her whole neighborhood was destroyed. But because she was so inspired by a person on a U.S. peace team -- Rachel Corrie who was killed some time ago -- she has committed her life to intervene in that terrible conflict in a nonviolent way. It's an extraordinary example about what we must try to do.

Clearly the violence of war that we know about and is happening right now in the world, the war in Iraq ... I read this morning about the mistake that our military made yesterday or last night. They drop a 500 pound bomb, missed their target by 30 miles and destroyed a home and a neighborhood. At least 14 people blown apart. That will never bring peace. Wars only brings hatred and killing and violence. We must as a nation turn away from war. Each of us must say no to war. It can't be. It's violence, and it's a lie. It will not bring peace. That's what Jesus is telling us. That's how he lived his life.

It also comes down to personal violence, violence of the streets. As I mentioned John Harris was killed on Thursday. What a struggle it is not to want to retaliate, to get even. Somehow we have to go deep into our faith life and find a way to respond as Jesus did -- with love, with forgiveness. That's the only way we can bring healing to ourselves and to the violence that exists in our city and in our nation.

Members of Pax Christi from our parish have mentioned to me that they want to renew their vows of nonviolence. They suggested that perhaps there would be other people in the parish who would like to learn more about this and sometime later on after some preparation and some prayer that others would want to commit themselves, through a private, personal vow, to give up violence, to make that commitment. We cannot guarantee that we never would turn to violence again, but we can at least make the commitment: "I want to follow the way of Jesus, the way of nonviolence." Today I ask you to think about that and perhaps in a few weeks or in a couple of months, after some preparation more of us will be willing to make that step.

It is a very important way to further commit ourselves through the commitment we have already made in baptism. You see, when we are baptized, we enter into the life of Jesus, don't we? We say we want to follow Jesus. We commit ourselves to him and to his life and to this way. On this feast of the baptism of Jesus, we will be celebrating the baptism of a new member of our parish community; as we do it, all of us are invited to renew our commitment in baptism by repeating the promises of baptism committing ourselves once more to follow Jesus as faithfully as we can.

As we do it today, my prayer, my hope is that all of us will make that commitment in a very special way, a commitment to follow Jesus who heard God saying within his heart: "This is my beloved, my chosen one, in whom I am will pleased. He does not cry out loud in the streets, does not break the bruised reed or quench the wavering flame, but brings true justice and true peace to the world." We must try to make the same commitment, hear God saying that to us. Make the same commitment to bringing God's justice and peace to the world not through violence but through healing, forgiveness, compassion and love.

In the name of the father and of the son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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