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 The Peace Pulpit:  Homiles 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 here five days after they are given, always on Friday.
  The Baptism of the Lord January 11, 2004

This week's readings **
Isaiah 42:1-4, 6-7
Thus says the Lord: Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one with whom I am pleased, upon whom I have put my spirit; he shall bring forth justice to the nations, not crying out, not shouting, not making his voice heard in the street. a bruised reed he shall not break, and a smoldering wick he shall not quench, until he establishes justice on the earth; the coastlands will wait for his teaching. I, the Lord, have called you for the victory of justice, I have grasped you by the hand; I formed you, and set you as a covenant of the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes of the blind, to bring out prisoners from confinement, and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness.

Acts of the Apostles 10:34-38
Peter proceeded to speak to those gathered in the house of Cornelius, saying: "In truth, I see that God shows no partiality. Rather, in every nation whoever fears him and acts uprightly is acceptable to him. You know the word that he sent to the Israelites as he proclaimed peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all, what has happened all over Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached, how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power. He went about doing good and healing all those oppressed by the devil, for God was with him."

Luke 3:15-16, 21-22
The people were filled with expectation, and all were asking in their hearts whether John might be the Christ. John answered them all, saying, "I am baptizing you with water, but one mightier than I is coming. I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire." After all the people had been baptized and Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, "You are my beloved Son; with you 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.

To begin our reflection this morning on the sacred scriptures, I have here part of the eucharistic prayer that we hear so often -- but perhaps do not always listen to carefully. We say, "God in heaven, you have called us to receive the body and blood of Jesus at this table and to be filled with the joy of the Holy Spirit. Through this sacred meal give us the strength and the courage to please you more and more. Help all who follow Jesus to work for peace, to bring happiness to others."

I call these words to our attention this morning because, as we celebrate the Feast of the Baptism of Jesus, we are also celebrating our own baptism, which means our participation in the life and mission of Jesus. God has called us, and we remind ourselves of that calling every time we celebrate the Eucharist and say this eucharistic prayer. God has called us to follow Jesus, to work for peace and to bring happiness to others.

This morning, I hope as we hear those words and as we celebrate this Eucharist, we will be ever more serious about accepting that call and responding to it. In fact, after we complete our reflections on the scriptures this morning, I will invite everyone to renew their baptismal promises, to renew their commitment to follow Jesus. I hope we will do this with great seriousness and a real sense of committing ourselves to his way.

To do that, we need to reflect a little bit more about what happened at the baptism of Jesus. You may have noticed that the way Luke describes the baptism, Jesus waited and approached John after all the other people present had been baptized. Then, evidently everybody was dismissed and Jesus went apart by himself to pray. In the quiet of his prayer, after his baptism, that is when Jesus experienced God coming upon him in a very powerful way. The Spirit of God came upon him and he heard these words from God: "Here is my son, my chosen one in whom I am well pleased."

Did you notice that the words that Jesus heard were also in our first reading today? They are taken from the Servant Song of Isaiah: "Here is my servant, my chosen one in whom I take delight."

Clearly, St. Luke is saying Jesus is this chosen one; Jesus is this servant. And listen again to how God describes this servant: "He will bring justice to the nations …Yahweh has 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 nations to open eyes that do not see, to bring liberation to people oppressed, to bring light to those who are in darkness."

It is also important to hear how this servant will bring justice, peace and liberation. The passage from Isaiah makes it very clear. It will not be through violence or through war. You don't liberate people by killing them. The servant, Isaiah said, does not shout or raise his voice, does not cry out aloud in the streets. In the Jewish scriptures, those words describe a call to arms. The servant of God does not do that.

The servant of God rejects that way. Rather, the servant of God acts with gentleness and with love, with tenderness. "A broken reed he will not crush nor will he snuff out the light of the wavering wick. Yet, he will make justice appear in truth." The servant of God acts only through love, gentleness and compassion.

When you reflect on how Jesus was baptized, you see how he begins to act this way almost immediately. In Matthew's Gospel, John said to Jesus, "No! I shouldn't be baptizing you. You should be baptizing me. I am the lower one." Jesus prevailed over John, saying, "We must act in accord with God's will."

Clearly, Jesus put himself in solidarity with the people who had come to be baptized. This was a baptism for the forgiveness of sins, a baptism of repentance. Jesus, the Son of God, did not need such a baptism. Yet he wanted to identify with us sinners, so he took his place at the end of the line. He wanted so much to be one with us, to be in solidarity with us, that he accepted the role of a sinner. He accepted upon himself our own sinfulness.

One of the most important things we can do to bring justice and make peace happen is to be in solidarity with those who are oppressed, those who are poor, those who need to be lifted up, those who need healing.

I found it fascinating last week to see a picture in the paper of the president of Brazil. President Lula da Silva is his name. Brazil is the second largest country in our hemisphere. You might think the president of Brazil would ride around in a big limousine, protected by armed guards, secret service and all that. Not President Lula, as he is popularly called. He walks in the streets among the poorest of the poor.

The picture shows him embracing, as the caption says, "a scavenger." The president of the country is embracing a garbage picker. President Lula was elected by people who wanted to see change in Brazil, people who thought he could bring some justice to the poor. He can't change everything right away, but he lets the people know he understands their suffering, their hurt and their oppression. He lets them know he is one with them. Because of this, I am sure the people have great confidence that he will continue to help bring change so the revolution can take place and the poor will be raised up.

That's always the first step: trying to be in solidarity with the oppressed. People understand how healing that is. I experienced it myself just a few weeks ago when I was in Colombia. I was among very poor people, people who have been oppressed and treated with violence. Even now they live under threat of eviction from their land. Truthfully, there isn't much I can do, but I could for a short time be with them, and that means a lot. It helps them begin to understand that someone cares about them. Once you show you care, people can begin to be healed. That's what Jesus showed us as he walked with the sinners. He became one with them so that they could become one with him.

Now, listen again to those words of Isaiah and understand what God is saying about Jesus: "You are my servant; you are my chosen one; in you I take delight, because you will reject the way of violence and only bring gentleness, compassion, love and healing to liberate the people." As we hear God speaking about Jesus in this way, we can't help but contrast that with what we have been doing as a people.

If you have been following the news at all, you know that we went to war in Iraq under false pretenses. There are no weapons of mass destruction. This past week, Secretary of State Colin Powell said there never was any clear evidence connecting Iraq with al- Qaeda.

Just yesterday, the former secretary of the treasury, Paul O'Neil, said that the administration began planning a war in Iraq from the beginning of its term. The administration was intent on going to war even before Sept. 11, 2001. So, our nation was brought into violence, killing, suffering and death under false pretenses. This is contrary to the way of Jesus. It is a tragedy for us, because people throughout the world say they can no longer trust the leaders of the United States to tell the truth in public forums like the United Nations. It has broken down any possibility for trust and confidence among nations that could be the basis for peace.

We use violence and killing, and say we are liberating people. Jesus brought true liberation, true justice and true peace, but only through love. That is the way of Jesus. We might find it difficult to follow, but through our baptism, we have said we are his disciples. Every day, we must try to deepen our understanding of what that means, so that in every aspect of our lives we try to follow the way of Jesus.

Perhaps this morning as we renew our baptismal promises and as we listen to the eucharistic prayer proclaimed, we will begin to act as we pray: We will follow Jesus, we will work for peace and we will bring happiness to others. I invite each of you to reflect for a moment on your life, being mindful of how you can be more faithful in following the way of Jesus. Then I will invite all of us to stand and renew our baptismal promises. In doing this, we will recommit ourselves to being disciples of Jesus, servants of God, filled with the Holy Spirit and going into the world to bring true justice, true liberation and true peace to all peoples.

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

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