The Peace Pulpit: Homilies by Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton
|Second Sunday in Ordinary Time||January 15, 2006|
Im sure that as we listened to that first lesson this morning about that young lad Samuel who is being trained to become a religious leader and had this extraordinary experience of hearing God call him, call him specifically, we wonder, Would God call me that way? Does God call me that way? And if God did call us this way, would we respond as Samuel did after Eli instructed him? He was able to say, Speak God! Your servant is listening. Speak God. Your servant is listening. Do we have that kind of a disposition? If God were to speak to me, would I really listen? And, of course, listening implies that I would follow, that I would do what God directs and guides me.
But how would God speak to us? How does God speak to us? I can assure you that if you listen, if you listen deeply, God speaks to every one of us. God speaks to us in many ways. Weve had this passage a couple of times now in the last couple of weeks, starting with Christmas. God has spoken in the past through our ancestors, through the prophets. This is from the letter to the Hebrews, at the very beginning of that letter. God has spoken in the past through our ancestors, through the prophets, in many different ways although never completely. But in our time God has spoken definitively to us through Jesus. He is the radiant of Gods glory and bears the stamp of Gods hidden being. So what are we being told here? Yes, God speaks to us in various ways -- through creations, through people we meet -- but most of all through Jesus. Jesus is the fullness of the revelation of God, and so we if really want to listen to God and to be guided on how we should live, how we should act, we have to turn to Jesus.
That, of course, is what the first disciples are doing in the passage we heard from Johns Gospel. John had pointed out Jesus as a very special person. He called him the lamb of God, which for those Jewish people would immediately call to mind the 53rd chapter of the book of the prophet Isaiah where a special servant of God in that passage is described as being offered to God as a sacrifice, giving over his whole being to God even though it meant horrendous suffering and even death, the lamb of God. Those first disciples know this is someone very special, the servant of Yahweh now present in this one, Jesus. And so they go, spend time with Jesus.
What would they want to know from Jesus, do you suppose? If you had that opportunity, what would you want to find out from Jesus? Well, of course, we would want to find out how to develop our relationship with God, how to become closer to God, how to become the full human person God calls you to be. We would want to find out from someone like Jesus what his values are, where he is leading us, how he will show us to lead a life that is filled with goodness, a life that brings us to a fullness of our humanness. Were very blessed, because those disciples who had the opportunity to meet Jesus, to talk with Jesus, and the others who gathered after those first four, they remembered what had happened in their interactions with Jesus and they eventually wrote them down. Thats what we have in our Gospel, the recollections of the first disciples of who Jesus was, how Jesus lived, what Jesus taught, what his values were, how we should live, how we should act, how we should follow him.
That, of course, is why we come every Sunday to hear Gods word -- so that we can truly come to know Jesus deeply and be guided by Jesus, so that we can begin to grapple with the big questions: Why are we here? What is it all about? So that we can really begin to have a sense of hope, even in a world where there is so much evil present. Thats why we come to Jesus. And, of course, if we really look at the Gospel lessons, listen to them every week, spend time in our daily prayer, reflecting on what Jesus said, how he acted and so on, we will be listening and God will be guiding us.
There are two areas especially where in the world in which we live Jesus speaks to us in a very powerful way, and weve reflected and spoken about these before. The first is about wealth and material goods. We live in the richest nation in the world, the richest nation of all history. We all have more than we need, generally peaking. Jesus challenges us, if we can really listen to him. The 12th chapter of Lukes Gospel, Jesus says, Do not be afraid little flock for it is me, God that gives you the kingdom. Sell what you have and give alms. Get yourselves purses that do not wear out and make safe investments with God where no thief comes and no moth destroys. For where your investments are, there will your heart be. You cannot serve God and money. Thats how Jesus put it in another place. Its a hard saying that we have to trust in God alone and not in our material wealth.
In a peace day statement some years ago titled, If You Want Peace Reach Out to the Poor, Pope John Paul II said this, which is a real clear interpretation of the message of Jesus:
Christs example, no less than his words, is normative for Christians.
His words are very powerful, but his example is normative. And then John Paul describes Jesus:
He was born in poverty. As a child he was forced to go into exile
He was a refugee.
with his family. He lived as one who had nowhere to lay his head.
He was homeless.
He was denigrated as a glutton, a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.
He was marginalized, pushed aside from most of the people in society.
Finally he suffered the death reserved for criminals, but he called the poor blessed and assured that the reign of God belonged to them.
And then John Paul applies it to us
In todays industrialized countries people are dominated by the frenzied race for possession of material goods. The consumer society makes the gap separating rich from poor even more obvious and the uncontrolled search for a comfortable life risks blinding people to the needs of others. It is therefore absolutely essential to stem the unrestrained consumption of earthly goods and to control the creation of artificial needs. Moderation and simplicity ought to become the criteria of our daily lives.
If we really listen to Jesus -- how he lived, what he said -- were going to be challenged profoundly in this world in which we live. If we want to listen to Jesus, we have to be ready to hear what he says and to follow it, and this can be very challenging especially in that area were we tend to want to put our security: our material wealth. Instead of saying, I can truly depend on God, we put our trust in our wealth. This goes for us as individuals; it goes for us as a Church. We dont need huge buildings, lots of wealth to be the community of disciples of Jesus. We could be totally poor and perhaps we would be even more authentically his community if we were, as the church. But thats a hard lesson for us to accept individually and our church as a whole. Well, I hope in this area we will begin to listen to Jesus.
The other area, of course, and I know you probably can guess what Im going to bring up, is that Jesus rejected violence for any reason whatsoever. We have to keep coming back to this, because its so hard for us truly to accept. He did reject violence. He refused to let anyone use a weapon to defend him, and he would not use any weapon himself in self defense or for any reason. Thats what he taught us. Again, his words and his example are totally clear. St. Paul was amazed by this and in writing to the church at Corinth, you may remember in the very first chapter, Paul speaks about, Here am I preaching a crucified Christ! A crucified Christ! Someone who refused to resist violence with violence! He allowed himself to be tortured and killed, and his only response was to love those who were doing it. Thats an extraordinary teaching, but its very basic to everything that Jesus is and stands for. And we find it so hard to listen.
One person, of course, who did listen was Martin Luther King, Jr. Tomorrow we celebrate this national holiday in his honor. Theres a new book out about Dr. King, its the third book in the trilogy written by Taylor Branch. Its the last two or three years of his life. One of the things Mr. Branch brings up so clearly is how during those last years of his life it was a constant struggle for Dr. King because everybody was telling him that nonviolence wont work! You have to begin to assert black power, respond to violence with violence. Dr. King, who was deeply in touch with Jesus, listened to Jesus and knew violence would never bring about the kind of transformation within our society that could lead to peace. It would only lead to horrendous bloodshed and killing. And, of course, thats what we see all over the world. When people respond to violence with violence, it goes on and on and on. In the Middle East, in the Holy Land where Jesus grew up and lived and proclaimed his message, the violence goes on. The cycle is repeated time after time.
One of those powerful messages that Dr. King gave was on April 4, 1967, a year to the day before he was shot to death. He had been urged by people not to keep on proclaiming this message of nonviolence for individuals but also, as he was doing at that time especially, challenging the United States of America, because we were so deeply involved in the Vietnam and carrying out a war that was bringing massive destruction to that country and to its people as well as costing the lives of many of our own young men and women. They said, Dont speak against the war. Dont get involved in that. But Dr. King knew that he could not speak for racial justice if he did not speak for justice of all people.
In that talk in Riverside Church on April 4, 1967, he said:
As I have walked among the desperate, rejected and angry young men,
he was talking about in the streets of the urban ghettos,
I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problem, but they asked if our own nation wasnt using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. The questions hit home and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettoes without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today -- my own government. Increasingly this is the role our nation has taken by refusing to give up the privileges and the pleasures that come from the immense profits of overseas investments when machines and computers, profit and property rights are considered more important than people the giant triplets of racism, materialism and militarism are incapable of being conquered.
So he was making a desperate plea to our nation to give up violence. He said:
A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.
We have almost $500 billion of our national wealth invested in armaments and so-called programs of defense, programs of violence. How much do we have in programs of social uplift? We cut them constantly. Dr. Kings judgment is that we are approaching spiritual death.
Are we ready to listen to Jesus? To hear God speaking through Jesus that final and definitive words that God speaks? I hope we are, especially in these two areas that are so crucial in the society in which we live. You have to hear what Jesus says and how to put our trust in God. Where your investments are, there is your heart. But we also have to listen to Jesus rejecting violence for any reason whatsoever. When we really listen to Jesus it will begin to change us dramatically from within and then we can help to be agents of change within our world. Perhaps what we prayed for in our opening prayer today will happen. We asked God, Show us the way to peace. He has done it through Jesus but we have to listen and follow.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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