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|The Peace Pulpit: Homiles by Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton|
|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.
|Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time||February 22, 2004|
Sometimes scripture lessons can be confusing; sometimes their message can seem unclear. You can't say that about today's Gospel, can you? Jesus could not have made it any plainer what he expects from us.
Throughout the last week, as I reflected on this Gospel and the other readings, I also had in my thoughts a movie I had recently seen, "Fog of War." It's a documentary about Robert McNamara, the person who was considered the architect of the Vietnam War. He was secretary of defense from 1961 until 1967. He is 85 now, and in this documentary he reviews his participation in wars and conflicts -- World War II, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Vietnam War. As he looks back, he tries to draw some lessons for life. In the film, McNamara talks about 11 lessons he has learned.
The second lesson he mentions is that we will not be saved from destruction by rationality. Rationality, McNamara said in the documentary, will not save us from the ultimate destruction of nuclear holocaust, because rational people -- rational, fully reasoning people -- made decisions -- cruel, but fully rational decisions -- to kill hundreds of thousands of innocent people. McNamara talked about how the United States bombed Tokyo in 1945 with incendiary bombs. In one night of bombing, 100,000 civilians died in that city alone, and we continued firebombing Japan until we culminated that war with the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
During the Cuban Missile Crisis (October 1962), when Robert McNamara was secretary of defense, there were those who wanted to take out Cuba immediately. They wanted to bomb and totally destroy the whole island, because Cuba, just 90 miles from our shores, had nuclear weapons installations. Rational people were saying, "Let's just destroy them."
He also said that while he was secretary of defense, "We came that close to all-out nuclear war with the Soviet Union." Three times, rational people on both sides were making decisions that could have led us into a war that would have destroyed everything. And, McNamara pointed out, "We still have people who are designing ways to use those weapons even now." We have 20,000 of them in place around the world. Half of those are deployed by the United States, and 3,000 of them are on hair-trigger alert! Rational people are planning how to use these weapons.
Furthermore, we are planning to make new nuclear weapons, weapons that we can use more readily because they are smaller. We'll be able to start a nuclear war with smaller nuclear weapons - a war that would quickly escalate. Rational people are making these plans! Well, you can see why McNamara said rational people can't save us. He was a part of making these rational decisions. From this viewpoint, he is communicating a powerful message. Rationality can't save us! It won't!
So, if rationality won't save us, what will? Jesus gives us the answer in today's Gospel. It's a different way of responding to evil, to injustice, to violence and to hatred. Jesus' way is not tit for tat, not killing for killing or violence for violence. Jesus' way is so different that it is easy for us to dismiss it, in spite of the fact that it is so clear. We say, "Oh, that's not possible. Jesus couldn't have meant it."
I am reminded of -- and I brought the quote with me -- what Mahatma Gandhi said in 1927. He said, "If I had to face only the Sermon on the Mount, I should not hesitate to say, 'Oh yes, I am a Christian.' But I can tell you that much of what passes as Christianity is a negation of the Sermon on the Mount."
This is so true. We are followers of Jesus who, for the most part, say no to the Sermon on the Mount. Yet, if you listen to today's Gospel, living according to the Sermon on the Mount is the defining characteristic of being a Christian. More than anything else, this is what defines a person as being a follower of Jesus. Jesus said: Be compassionate as God is compassionate, be merciful as God is merciful, and then you will be sons and daughters of God.
Only when you begin to imitate the compassion, the love, the mercy and the goodness of God -- only then can you define yourself as a follower of Jesus. God never limits love, never holds it back. God loves even the sinner and the ungrateful; when you can imitate that, you are sons and daughters of God.
One of our problems with this teaching of Jesus, I guess, is that we think of it as giving in to evil -- letting injustice and evil go on without objecting to it. But that is not the case at all. We are not passive when we give up violence. We continue to work and to struggle for justice and for peace, but we do it in a different way.
In fact, one of the lessons that Robert McNamara said he learned from his experiences, the first lesson, is that you have to empathize with your enemy. That is, you have to begin to know your enemy as a fellow human being, as a brother or sister in the human family, a son or daughter of the same God. McNamara said in the documentary that the one thing that brought our country back from the brink during the Cuban Missile Crisis was the fact that among the people discussing what to do was Llewellyn Thompson, a former ambassador to the Soviet Union.
Thompson and his wife had lived in Moscow for a number of years, and they knew Mr. Kruschev and his wife very well. They knew them as human beings and as persons with families, people who hurt like we hurt, who suffer like we suffer, who rejoice like we rejoice. They knew them as human beings and they reached out in love to them. Llewellyn Thompson was in that room and twice objected even to what President Kennedy was saying. He said, "Mr. President, I think you are wrong."
It is all there in the film. Thompson convinced the group advising the president that if we reached out to the Soviets in their humanness, they would respond with humanness. And that is exactly what happened. That is how the missile crisis was dissolved without the world being destroyed.
Jesus is not asking us to neglect injustice and ignore human rights violations. Jesus does not say to walk away from problems. He says to deal with them in a different way, to see the human being behind the violence that is being done against you. When Jesus says, "Love that person," he doesn't mean that you obediently feel affection. That's not love; at least, that alone is not love. Loving people means that you choose, with your mind and your will, to act in ways that can help them to become more fully human and to turn away from their violent actions.
That's the genius of nonviolence, which is what Jesus is teaching in today's Gospel. We reach out and love those who are hurting us, because we see them as brothers and sisters. We empathize with them. We enter into their lives and experiences, insofar as we can. And then we act toward them, wanting the best for them. That's Christian non-violence, active love. That's what Jesus is teaching in today's Gospel.
And it is all foreshadowed, in a sense, by what happened in the first lesson today. Saul was out to kill David, and he had the means to do it. David suddenly found himself with the opportunity to kill Saul, but he didn't. He loved Saul. He chose what was good for Saul, and that crisis ended peacefully. David and Saul reconciled. The same thing can happen when we begin to live according to the way of Jesus.
As I mentioned before Mass, we are starting the season of Lent this week. This is the time of the year when we try, more than at any other time, to enter as fully as possible into a new relationship with Jesus. We prepare for a renewal of our baptismal promises on Easter, a renewal of our sharing in the risen life of Jesus. We get ready by following Jesus in his public life -- and then, especially in the last week, we are with him when he is tortured and nailed to a cross and yet responds only with love. If we are very serious about Lent and try to enter into it prayerfully, perhaps during this season of Lent we will come to know Jesus more deeply as one who rejects violence.
We can think of many examples of this, but one of the clearest examples is in the Gospel of Luke, which we are reading this year. Jesus confronted a violent crowd that was ready to kill him. Peter drew a sword to defend him, but Jesus said, "Put it away. Those who live by the sword will die by the sword." He rejected any use of violence. Instead he walked toward those who were approaching him violently and embraced their leader, Judas, in a demonstration of friendship and love.
During Lent, we strive to come to know Jesus more deeply and to grow in awareness of how Jesus reaches out in love and forgiveness. We form a deeper friendship with Jesus, following him, imitating him, acting as he does. As we do that, we will also experience - and this is probably the most fundamental thing that needs to happen - we experience how much God loves us, in spite of our failures, in spite of our sins, in spite of anything. No matter what, God loves me and forgives me. He reaches out every instant with compassion and mercy and love.
Maybe, during Lent this year, we can come to know his love more deeply and grow into a deeper friendship with Jesus. As our awareness of who he is and how he acts deepens, we will experience much more deeply God's boundless, unconditional love for each of us. When we have experienced that, we will be able to love others, even our enemies.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen!
Editor's Note: NCR film critic Joseph Cunneen reviewed "The Fog of War" in the Jan. 30 issue of National Catholic Reporter.
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