The Peace Pulpit: Homilies by Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton
|Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time||February 5, 2006|
In todays Gospel were told that very early in the morning, obviously before anyone else was up and about, Jesus went apart by himself. Mark even says, to a lonely place. Jesus wanted to be alone in quiet prayer. One commentator on the scriptures remarked that in Marks Gospel especially every time Jesus comes to sort of a crisis in his understanding of his call, his messianic call, why he had come into the world, when he comes to a crisis about his call, he goes apart by himself to pray, to try to rediscover and maybe to reconfirm his understanding of where God was leading him, asking what God was asking him to do.
As I thought about the Gospel, I could immediately think of a couple of times when that certainly was true. At the beginning of Marks Gospel where Jesus first begins his public life, were told that he was baptized and he was driven out into the desert by the spirit. Forty days and forty nights of quiet prayer, communion with God, discovering where God was leading him -- what was his call and what was he expected to do. Another incident that comes to mind very quickly is toward the end of his public life when Jesus is on his last journey to Jerusalem and has told the disciples what was going to happen to him. Peter was telling him, No, dont do that. You dont have to give yourself over to your enemies, be tortured, nailed to a cross and so on. It was a real temptation to Jesus, so he goes apart to pray. Thats when he experiences Gods presence in a very powerful way in the transfiguration on, traditionally we say, Mount Tabor. There God affirmed Jesus but reminded him again what his role was to be, that is, to proclaim the good news, to bring the message into the world that the world can be transformed, the reign of God can happen.
The first time he came out of the desert the first words he spoke were, The reign of God is at hand. Change your lives! Jesus discovered in that prayer what God was asking of him, and thats what was happening in todays Gospel.
It might not be apparent at first but there was a real temptation here. See Jesus had drawn attention in the synagogue earlier in the day, because when he was confronted by evil he threw out that spirit of evil and everybody was in amazement. Because this was the Sabbath, everybody went home, because they were not allowed to travel or move about on the Sabbath. But then at sundown, remembering what happened, the people flocked to the home of Simon Peters mother-in-law where the disciples and Jesus were staying, and Jesus spent hours healing, consoling and comforting. And hes acclaimed! Everybody is clamoring to see him.
It must have been a temptation to Jesus to say, Why not just stay right here? Do this healing kind of ministry, confront the evil thats here. Try to change a few things, try to help a few people, and have a, I guess you might say, a comfortable life. Just be there, be acclaimed, be held in admiration, be loved. But he knows thats probably not what God was asking of him, so he goes apart to pray by himself. After his prayer, he comes back and Peter said, Stay here. Everybody is looking for you. But Jesus said, No. He was reconfirmed in his call: I have to proclaim the good news in all the towns and villages. I have to let everybody know that Gods reign is at hand. We can change our lives and change our world by confronting evil, by proclaiming the truth. By living Gods message of love everything can be transformed.
Jesus said, I have to go. And his disciples, I suppose somewhat reluctantly, went with him. He began his public life, began journeying throughout the Holy Land and even into some of the pagan territories proclaiming the good news. Of course, when he does that, he takes on a lot of insecurity. First of all, he said about himself, he had no place to lay his head. He was homeless, an itinerant preacher going about proclaiming the good news. He also had to confront evil and denounce it, even at times within the religious leadership of the synagogue and the temple. He confronted evil where ever it was -- the civil authorities, the church authorities -- and tragically it lead to his being rejected.
Well, as we reflect on this dont you begin to think, Well, what is God asking of me? Each one of us. Weve said were ready to follow Jesus. Thats what happens when were baptized. I am ready to follow Jesus, to take up his message, to proclaim the good news that the world can be transformed through love. There is no other way! That means that we, too, sometimes are called to confront evil and violence and hatred but not by returning the same thing, by changing, transforming. And so we too probably need to go apart and pray.
I hesitate to become personal, but I thought of this in respect to, in regards to myself. I didnt have to testify before that legislative committee in Columbus. I didnt have to speak about what happened to me when I was a youngster, but as I prayed, I understood that its necessary at times to say the truth, to confront evil, otherwise we can never overcome it. Im convinced, again, that within the church the evils that have happened can only be overcome if theyre confronted, acknowledged and forgiveness is asked and pleaded for by those who perpetrated the evils and those who enabled the perpetrators and so on. Sometimes in our lives we have to make choices that can maybe lead to some insecurity, some anger and rejection by others. But isnt that exactly what Jesus is showing us in todays Gospel? He goes off without knowing exactly what is going to happen to him. He just knows he has to do what God is asking of him. So he does it.
In our second lesson today I think St. Paul gives us a very good example of someone who understood this truth about Jesus. You know Paul was leading a, well I suppose I would say again, a comfortable life, a life where he was recognized and admired. He was a leader within the Jewish community but then he suddenly really met Jesus and understood Jesus and the message of Jesus so that then he says as he does in todays second lesson, I am compelled, a deep inner compulsion, I have to say the word. He had been so taken over by Jesus and the message of Jesus that he says, If I dont speak it, I will perish. I have to speak that message. He had really come to know Jesus and what Jesus was asked to do by God and what every follower of Jesus is asked to do. And so Paul did it and, he did it by living a life thats insecure. He tells us in that second lesson that, Look, yes, a preacher is deserving of wages but I reject all of that. I wont take that. Ill struggle along on my own, make enough by tent making to get by how ever I can. He is not looking for a life of security, a life of comfort. No, hes got one goal: to preach the message, to say the word of God, to confront evil, to proclaim the truth, the good news that Gods world can be transformed through love. Here am I preaching a crucified Christ. To the Jews its a scandal, to the Greeks its madness but its the way to the fullness of life. Because the crucified Christ is the Christ who has given us everything out of love, and that crucified Christ is transformed into the risen Christ who indeed Paul met. Paul really understood that message and took it to himself to live it. He said, I have to take it everywhere. Everywhere I can -- to the Jews and the Greeks, the rich, the poor, everyone. And, again, thats kind of a model for us. Paul was like Jesus and we have to try to begin to be like Paul, to come to know Jesus deeply and follow Jesus where ever that takes us.
Besides the example of St. Paul, I have another example today that I found very, very compelling. A recent article titled, The Forgotten Wounded of Iraq by Ron Kovic. Now, some of us will remember Ron Kovic. Theres a movie about him called, Born on the Fourth of July. He was a soldier at the time of Vietnam, was wounded and became paralyzed from the mid-chest through the rest of his body. Well, in this article he describes some of that. He says,
Then he goes on to describe what happened to him when he first came home. And then further on in the letter he says about himself and the other wounded back then,
Then he goes on to describe what he hopes will happen for those wounded of today, but he worries because money that our government should spend on veterans hospitals is being cut. But finally he says this:
In prayer he began to see the whole experience very differently.
The message of Jesus. Here is a person who has truly understood that message through great suffering, through the intense prayer that Im sure he had to involve himself in over the years. He has come to know what Paul knew: Here am I preaching a crucified Christ. To the Jews its scandal, to the Greeks, madness, but to those who believe the way to the fullness of life -- though our suffering, sometimes even through our death -- new life comes. The message of Jesus.
I hope each of us will try to take that message deeply into our own spirits, into our own hearts. Each of us is a committed Christian, a follower of Jesus, and weve been following a path in our lives but perhaps at this time, at some time, Jesus will guide us in a direction that we prefer not to go. But if we have the confidence and trust in Jesus that Paul had, that Ron Kovic has, well be able to go where ever Jesus leads us and, especially in the world in which we live, go against the trend that proclaims violence is the answer, go against the war chants and the war cries, stand up for what Jesus taught: Love and only love is the way that the reign of God will break forth in its fullness in our world.
In the name of the father and of the son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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