The Peace Pulpit: Homilies by Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton
|Third Sunday in Ordinary Time||January 22, 2006|
As we do every time we celebrate the Eucharist, this morning we will pray the words that Jesus taught us and in that prayer we will say, Gods kingdom come. We pray that prayer at every Eucharist, but Im sure everyone of us prays every day probably those words: Gods kingdom come. As we reflect on todays scriptures perhaps we will have a better understanding of what that means, Thy kingdom come, and also perhaps a better understanding of how you and I are called just like those people in the scriptures today-- Jonah or Paul, James and John, Simon, Andrew.
We are called to help make that kingdom come by changing our lives. What did Jesus mean when he expressed those words in the prayer that he taught his disciples? Jesus lived in a time when the Jewish people had a very clear expectation that they were in an apocalyptic age. By that they meant that they understood that there was what they called the present time and then the time to come. The present time was the time when even though God had made the whole universe, made the planet, made all of the people on the planet and so on, and God really oversaw all of this and continued to support it and make it all happen, God allowed lesser kings to hold sway in the world. Even though God in the Jewish concept was the king of all kings, God allowed lesser kings -- Nebuchadnezzar, famous in Jewish history, or Cyrus or Herod or the Roman Emperor -- these lesser kings seemed to and did hold sway over the world and over what happened in the world.
When Jesus said, There is a time to come and it is right now. The reign of God is at hand. The time to come is ready to break forth into human history in fullness. Thats the Good News. Through Jesus, who is present in the world, everyone has access to the healing, saving power of God and the world is being transformed until it becomes, well, as we pray in the Eucharistic prayer, One day Jesus will come again. Then in his kingdom therell be no more suffering, no more tears, no more sadness. What a beautiful expectation.
You can think of the reign of God as it breaks forth and moves toward its fullness in the words of the prophet Isaiah: Gods spirit came upon me. God sent me to proclaim the good news to the poor, heal the broken hearted, give the blind new sight, set the downtrodden free and proclaim Gods year of jubilee, a time when everyone will share the good that God gave to this world for all. It will be a time of justice, a time of peace, a jubilee time, Gods time. Thats how we can envision this reign of God that is breaking forth in our world. Another passage in Isaiah comes to mind: a time when people will turn their swords into plowshares, give up violence and killing and do everything to make life happen.
The reign of God is truly good news for us but, of course, the reign of God hasnt happened yet. We still live in a world where, as Pope John Paul II put it in his Peace Day statement for 2002, ... where there is a shattered moral order and evil seems to have the upper hand. Ive experienced that for myself very dramatically in the last couple of weeks as I got more involved in what we have come to call the sex scandal in the church by testifying in Ohio a week and a half ago. (See NCR, Jan. 20.) Ive become even more aware of how terrible that evil is within our church. Ive been overwhelmed by the number of people who have responded to me, many of them victims, survivors of violence either from within the church or sometimes from within their families as children. Surely that is a shattered moral order, especially when it happens within the community of disciples of Jesus and is perpetrated by those who are to be the leaders in that community.
Extraordinary tragedy and evil in our church and within our world. This past week when I was in Haiti, I experienced once more how shattered is the moral order. Its overwhelming when you walk through the streets of Port au Prince and you see extraordinary poverty everywhere. Its extreme poverty. People hungry. People without medical care. Most children have not had the opportunity to receive schooling. I think it was dramatized for me in a very powerful way by simply one small person, a little boy. Last Wednesday when I was celebrating Mass at St. Claires Church, the parish of Fr. Jean- Juste, after Mass when I walked down to mingle with the people, one small youngster came up to me, a little boy, and greeted me, a big smile on his face. But when I looked at him I noticed his hair was reddish brown, which is a sign of terrible malnutrition. But he doesnt even know how his growth has been stunted, how his life has been cut short because he doesnt have enough to eat. Heartbreaking. And it really did kind of break my heart to see the smiling child and know that his future has already been taken away from him because you never recover from that. When youre malnourished as a tiny child youll never recover. And thats the way it is for most of the children of Haiti. Most of them are malnourished, even extremely malnourished. And so you see there a shattered moral order.
Or you visit, as I did, Fr. Gerard Jean- Juste in prison and there are hundreds of other prisoners like him who have committed no crime. They have perhaps, like he has, spoken out for the poor, tried to change the system so that the poor would have a chance to share in the good that God gave for all and not for a few.
And the violence that you find there. Every day people being murdered on the streets. The reign of God, obviously, has not broken forth the way that Jesus proclaimed it could and would: The reign of God is at hand.
Even though I have experienced the shattered moral order dramatically in the last couple of weeks, I also was able to see how, because some people have changed their lives and are following Jesus like those first disciples, good things are happening. The reign of God is breaking forth. Even in that parish at St. Claire were I saw that tiny child so severely malnourished, that was the same day that the people of the parish with some help from others were able to provide, as they do three days a week, a hot meal for hundreds of children in that neighborhood. The great joy among them as they provided that meal and seeing how the children enjoyed it, thats a small sign the reign of God is breaking forth.
I met a group of people who had experienced violence and terrible suffering. They were women who had been raped or their husbands had been murdered. Rather than let that shatter their lives, they have banned together and formed a survivors support group for themselves. And theyre doing marvelous things. Theyve opened up, again with some help from others, a clinic so that they can provide maternal health care, provide for newborns and their families. Theyve even opened up a small school so that these children can begin to get some education. Once more, its a sign of how people following Jesus -- reaching out to support one another, reaching out in love for one another -- begin to make the reign of God break forth.
In the same way, my experience with the survivors of sexual abuse makes me realize that so many of them, in spite of the fact that they have not received healing from the church that they should have, have taken charge of their own lives. Theyve refused to let themselves continue to live in the spirit of being humiliated, being abused, and theyre acting on their own behalf with dignity, with love for one another and trying to bring about change within our church for the better. This too is a sign that the reign of God is breaking forth as people follow Jesus, which is a way of healing, a way of compassion, a way of love, a way of forgiveness. The reign of God happens when people begin to follow Jesus.
And so now the question is for all of us. You heard what Jesus said in the Gospel, The reign of God is at hand. Change your lives. You know, we heard this same Gospel three years ago because we have these readings in a three year cycle. I wonder if we look back, any one of us or all of us, and ask When I heard that Gospel three years ago did I start to change my life? Has my life been changed? how would we answer? Probably yes for most of us. Weve made some changes, but maybe not as dramatically as were asked to.
When Jonah went to Nineveh, he preached the word of God and people dramatically changed their lives. They repented of their past failures, and they began to follow Gods way. Or as Paul says to the church at Corinth, Nothing that has been ordinary in your life before can be the same. The reign of God is ready to happen, if we change our lives, if we really follow Jesus. What were asked to do is not to follow a set of rules, not to follow an institution, the church, but were asked to follow Jesus. Thats what he says to those first disciples: Follow me.
So if each of us began to listen more deeply as he speaks to us each Sunday through the scriptures or in our daily reading of the scriptures, if we really listen deeply with our hearts and spirit, if we really began to understand better who Jesus is and how he lives, how he acted, really look at Jesus as a model, how dramatically we could change our lives. And the more and more that happens, the more the reign of God will break forth. Jesus came to bring good news to the poor, to give the blind new sight, set the downtrodden free, proclaim Gods year of favor and thats what hes asking everyone of us to do. Follow him. Do the same things that he did in his life, and then the shattered moral order can be restored and repaired. The power of evil will no longer be dominant. The reign of God could happen and will happen.
And so as we leave the church today, I hope that everyone of us will hear ringing in our hearts those words of Jesus, The reign of God is at hand. Proclaim the Good News. Change your life. Follow me.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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