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The Peace Pulpit:  Homilies by Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton

 Third Sunday in Ordinary Time January 22, 2006

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 **

Jonah 3:1-5, 10

Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the second time, saying, "Arise, go to Nineveh the great city and proclaim to it the proclamation which I am going to tell you." So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh according to the word of the LORD. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, a three days' walk. Then Jonah began to go through the city one day's walk; and he cried out and said, "Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown." Then the people of Nineveh believed in God; and they called a fast and put on sackcloth from the greatest to the least of them.
When God saw their deeds, that they turned from their wicked way, then God relented concerning the calamity which He had declared He would bring upon them. And He did not do it.

1 Corinthians 7:29-31
But this I say, brethren, the time has been shortened, so that from now on those who have wives should be as though they had none; and those who weep, as though they did not weep; and those who rejoice, as though they did not rejoice; and those who buy, as though they did not possess; and those who use the world, as though they did not make full use of it; for the form of this world is passing away.

Mark 1:14-20
Now after John had been taken into custody, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel." As He was going along by the Sea of Galilee, He saw Simon and Andrew, the brother of Simon, casting a net in the sea; for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, "Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men." Immediately they left their nets and followed Him. Going on a little farther, He saw James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, who were also in the boat mending the nets. Immediately He called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants, and went away to follow Him.

* 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 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, “God’s kingdom come.” We pray that prayer at every Eucharist, but I’m sure everyone of us prays every day probably those words: “God’s kingdom come.” As we reflect on today’s 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.” That’s 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 there’ll 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: “God’s 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 God’s 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, God’s time. That’s 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 hasn’t 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.” I’ve 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.) I’ve become even more aware of how terrible that evil is within our church. I’ve 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. It’s overwhelming when you walk through the streets of Port au Prince and you see extraordinary poverty everywhere. It’s 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. Claire’s 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 doesn’t even know how his growth has been stunted, how his life has been cut short because he doesn’t 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 you’re malnourished as a tiny child you’ll never recover. And that’s 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, that’s 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 survivor’s support group for themselves. And they’re doing marvelous things. They’ve opened up, again with some help from others, a clinic so that they can provide maternal health care, provide for newborns and their families. They’ve even opened up a small school so that these children can begin to get some education. Once more, it’s 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. They’ve refused to let themselves continue to live in the spirit of being humiliated, being abused, and they’re 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. We’ve made some changes, but maybe not as dramatically as we’re 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 God’s 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 we’re asked to do is not to follow a set of rules, not to follow an institution, the church, but we’re asked to follow Jesus. That’s 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 God’s year of favor and that’s what he’s 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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