The Peace Pulpit: Homilies by Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton
|Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time||February 19, 2006|
There is a detail in todays Gospel lesson that we might not have noticed as we listened to it. Its something a bit ominous, in fact, for Jesus. For the first time, teachers of the law, the scribes and the Pharisees, the religious leaders are on hand. Theyre watching him. This happens very quickly in Marks Gospel. Today we just began the reading of the second chapter, and already in his public life Jesus has become a threat to the religious leaders and I guess if we review very quickly what Mark has told us so far about the public life of Jesus well begin to sense what happened.
It starts in Marks Gospel with the coming of John the Baptist and then immediately Jesus is baptized, goes out into the desert, prays and comes back understanding his role is to go out and spread the good news. He begins to do that and he gathers disciples and then begins to do his healing work, at Peters mother-in-laws house first. After that night of prayer, you remember, a couple weeks ago he was trying to discern what his task really is and then he understands and he cant stay there in Capernaum where the disciples wanted him to stay. He has to go out and he has to spread the good news.
He has to go into the far away places, out into the desert places, the deserted places. And when he does that, as we heard last Sunday when he comes upon the leper, the leper who was forced out of the community. You remember Jesus became angry about that, about excluding people. Well, he welcomed him and he even touched him. But, of course, thats breaking the law as I pointed out last week, and thats what begins to get scribes and the Pharisees, the teachers of the law upset. Jesus says, Your human laws if they do hurt or harm to people cannot be obeyed. I will not obey a law that requires me to push someone away, exclude someone. And so he touches that leper and becomes, according to that law, unclean. But that doesnt bother Jesus. He isnt interested in following a law for the laws own sake if the law is unjust, does something harmful. But that threatens the religious leaders, of course. Theyre the ones who are the enforcers of the law. Theyre the ones who oversee everything. They have the places of authority, the places of honor and prestige. All this is threatened by someone who isnt going to follow their rules.
In todays Gospel, Jesus proclaims that he has a prerogative that is Gods alone. Who can forgive sin except God? Well truly only God can forgive sins and bring healing to the sinner. Jesus makes it very clear that he claims that power for himself. This, too, then is very upsetting to the religious leaders. According to their rules and their laws, people would have to bring animals of sacrifice, which they would purchase at the temple. They would have to go through rituals, which would give the religious leaders power over them. All of this is threatened by Jesus. And thats why theyre beginning to watch him.
And things move along very quickly in Marks Gospel. Its the shortest of the Gospels, but we can see how even at the beginning of this second chapter things are becoming dangerous for Jesus. And what hes doing, if we take a moment to reflect, is what Isaiah said so powerfully in the first lesson today. Listen again:
An extraordinary declaration on the part of God to a people who have been in exile, in slavery, for 50 years. They have been following a kind of theology that said, We deserve this. We were sinners and so God is punishing us. They did not want to leave go of that theology, and so Isaiah has to come to them and say, Look, God is saying something new. Forget that old theology. God is saying, I forgive you. You dont have to go through any rituals, any kind of sin offerings and things like that. I forgive you. It is I who forgives and heals. He is trying to make the people free, to bring them back. Sadly enough, they werent all that eager. They had become somewhat comfortable with their old theology and had come somewhat used to living there in exile even in a kind of slavery. But God insists that something new is happening and calls the people to follow and they do gradually.
But as we listen, then, to what Jesus has done and what especially when you put it in that context of Isaiah, the words of Isaiah speaking for God, God is calling us to something new also. Right now God is calling us to understand that God does forgive our sins! We dont have to go through various kinds of rituals and so on to be forgiven. God is there waiting to be gracious to us. We need only acknowledge our need of God, our need of forgiveness and its there. God is asking us to accept that. And now to begin to act as renewed people, people who are forgiven, who share the very life of God, who take on the work of Jesus, who proclaim the good news. What a difference it could make in our world if we truly accepted this: I am forgiven. I share the life of God. Im a disciple of Jesus. I am called to proclaim the good news everywhere in order to transform our world.
I remind you again of a document that I have quoted many times, I suppose, already. The Peace Day statement of Pope John Paul II for Jan. 1, 2002, the Peace Day after 9/11, when he was grappling with how do you restore the shattered moral order when theres such violence like those terrible acts of terrorism that took place on Sept. 11? How do you do it? How do you respond to that? You know our government responded by going to war. John Paul said no, the only way to respond to that and to restore the shattered moral order, the only way to bring peace is to build it on the two pillars of justice and then the one we hear about today, the pillar of that special kind of love we call forgiveness. The special kind of love we call forgiveness.
If we have been truly forgiven and if we become aware of that and rejoice in that, then as followers of Jesus we are supposed to share that good news, carry the spirit of forgiveness into our world. Its the most radical teaching of Jesus: Love your enemies. Forgive those who hurt you. Return good for evil. We need to hear this again and again until finally we begin to make it our own and to live it.
This past week I came across two very different approaches for what our government should be doing in the world in the face of threats like we did experience in the acts of terrorism. You may be aware our government is beginning to talk about going to war again against Iran. A week ago Saturday in the Senate, the Republican leader Senator Bill Frist insisted that the Congress has the political will to use military force against Iran repeating the mantra: We cannot allow Iran to become a nuclear nation. One of the architects of the war against Iraq, Richard Pearle has added his comments to that. He says, Since one cannot depend on good intelligence it is a matter of take action now or lose the option of taking action. And here are his words, Richard Pearle, If we just let our vision of the world go forth and we embrace it entirely and we dont try to piece together diplomacy but just wage a total war, our children will sing great songs about us years from now. Advocating going to war again, this time against Iran. Saying, Thats the way were going to rule the world!
But then the opposite, hopeful thing I think if we are followers of Jesus -- Remember last Sunday Fr. Enda McDonough was here and he spoke late in the afternoon over at Holy Trinity. His message was that now is the time to abolish war, call for the abolition of war:
Thats the message of Jesus, isnt it? Love your enemies. Forgive those who persecute you. Return good for evil. Dont go to war. Abolish war. This is the new message. Isaiah says, I am proclaiming something new. Jesus took that up, proclaimed something radically new and shows us the way to peace in the world.
I hope that we might be able to be like Paul who says, God knows that our dealing with you is not yes and no just as Jesus whom I preach to you was not yes and no. With him it was simply, Yes! Jesus was one who was, Paul was saying, Yes to God. Thats what each of us, if we follow Jesus, must become: Yes to God. Yes to God, to Gods way and this will bring us to Gods peace.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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