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The Peace Pulpit:  Homiles by Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton

  Fourth Sunday in Lent March 6, 2005

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 **
1 Samuel 16:1, 6-7, 10-13
Now the Lord said to Samuel, "How long will you grieve over Saul, since I have rejected him from being king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil and go; I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have selected a king for Myself among his sons." When they entered, he looked at Eliab and thought, "Surely the Lord'S anointed is before Him." But the Lord said to Samuel, "Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart." Thus Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel. But Samuel said to Jesse, "The Lord has not chosen these." And Samuel said to Jesse, "Are these all the children?" And he said, "There remains yet the youngest, and behold, he is tending the sheep." Then Samuel said to Jesse, "Send and bring him; for we will not sit down until he comes here."

Ephesians 5:8-14
For you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light (for the fruit of the Light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth), trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord. Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them; for it is disgraceful even to speak of the things which are done by them in secret. But all things become visible when they are exposed by the light, for everything that becomes visible is light. For this reason it says, "Awake, sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you."

John 9:1-41 or 9:1, 6-9, 13-17, 34-38
As He passed by, He saw a man blind from birth. And His disciples asked Him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?" Jesus answered, "It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him. We must work the works of Him who sent Me as long as it is day; night is coming when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the Light of the world." When He had said this, He spat on the ground, and made clay of the spittle, and applied the clay to his eyes, and said to him, "Go, wash in the pool of Siloam" (which is translated, Sent) So he went away and washed, and came back seeing. Therefore the neighbors, and those who previously saw him as a beggar, were saying, "Is not this the one who used to sit and beg?" Others were saying, "This is he," still others were saying, "No, but he is like him." He kept saying, "I am the one." So they were saying to him, "How then were your eyes opened?" He answered, "The man who is called Jesus made clay, and anointed my eyes, and said to me, 'Go to Siloam and wash'; so I went away and washed, and I received sight." They said to him, "Where is He?" He said, "I do not know." They brought to the Pharisees the man who was formerly blind. Now it was a Sabbath on the day when Jesus made the clay and opened his eyes. Then the Pharisees also were asking him again how he received his sight. And he said to them, "He applied clay to my eyes, and I washed, and I see." Therefore some of the Pharisees were saying, "This man is not from God, because He does not keep the Sabbath " But others were saying, "How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?" And there was a division among them. So they said to the blind man again, "What do you say about Him, since He opened your eyes?" And he said, "He is a prophet." The Jews then did not believe it of him, that he had been blind and had received sight, until they called the parents of the very one who had received his sight, and questioned them, saying, "Is this your son, who you say was born blind? Then how does he now see?" His parents answered them and said, "We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; but how he now sees, we do not know; or who opened his eyes, we do not know. Ask him; he is of age, he will speak for himself." His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that if anyone confessed Him to be Christ, he was to be put out of the synagogue. For this reason his parents said, "He is of age; ask him." So a second time they called the man who had been blind, and said to him, "Give glory to God; we know that this man is a sinner." He then answered, "Whether He is a sinner, I do not know; one thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see." So they said to him, "What did He do to you? How did He open your eyes?" He answered them, "I told you already and you did not listen; why do you want to hear it again? You do not want to become His disciples too, do you?" They reviled him and said, "You are His disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. "We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where He is from." The man answered and said to them, "Well, here is an amazing thing, that you do not know where He is from, and yet He opened my eyes. "We know that God does not hear sinners; but if anyone is God-fearing and does His will, He hears him. Since the beginning of time it has never been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, He could do nothing." They answered him, "You were born entirely in sins, and are you teaching us?" So they put him out. Jesus heard that they had put him out, and finding him, He said, "Do you believe in the Son of Man?" He answered, "Who is He, Lord, that I may believe in Him?" Jesus said to him, "You have both seen Him, and He is the one who is talking with you." And he said, "Lord, I believe." And he worshiped Him. And Jesus said, "For judgment I came into this world, so that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may become blind." Those of the Pharisees who were with Him heard these things and said to Him, "We are not blind too, are we?" Jesus said to them, "If you were blind, you would have no sin; but since you say, 'We see,' your sin remains.

* 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.

I thought the best way to start our reflections today on the scripture lessons is to share with you the beginning of the reflection that Bishop Untener has in his little black book for today. Some of you have probably read it already this morning. He says:

There are two ways to approach religion. One is to see it as a fix set of truths, boxed in, set, a pat hand. Another way to see it is as a call to believe in truths that eye has not fully seen nor ear fully heard. It is a call to ongoing discovery that challenges, consoles and sometimes discomforts.

Certainly what we discover in today's scripture is that there are two ways to look upon our religion. One is to see it as something totally set, fixed and firm, that we know all the answers. The other is to see it as an ongoing journey, a discovery, a coming into new insights. To see something new that we've never seen before. To be led where God will lead us once we begin to see and understand that God is always taking us in different directions. God will open up whole new expansions of truth and goodness and love for us, if we are willing to follow God's way and not try to hang on to something set and firm and fixed.

You see that in the first lesson today. When Samuel was told by God to anoint a new king, the chosen people had split into two kingdoms. The kingdom of Israel was in shambles under the leadership of Saul. They had been engaged in lots of wars; the people were falling away from God, and they needed new leadership, so Samuel is sent to the house of Jesse. In the culture of the chosen people at that time, they had very set patterns as to who would be their leader. Among other things it was a very patriarchal culture and so the first born son was always designated to be the leader, to be the one who would inherit the role of leadership. So when Samuel came and he asked Jesse to bring his son forward to be anointed king, Jesse brought his oldest son, a very handsome man, strong and powerful. He looked like everything a king would look like, and he was the one who had the right to be the king. But God had different ways.

God didn't act within the framework that the people had set up as to how they would follow what they thought was God's religion. Samuel said, "No, that's not the one. Bring another one." He went through all seven sons and then finally in comes to the youngest, the one that they thought would never be eligible to be the king. He was the son Samuel anointed king of the chosen people. God broke through the categories, the framework that the people had sent up.

God has different ways, ways that take us in new directions and that's exactly what happened there when Samuel anointed the new king. David became the king.

That teaches us a very important lesson. Sometimes God calls those whom we do not think will be called to leadership, and they serve within the community. I have a friend who is a scripture scholar who says, "You know I stopped praying for vocations a long time ago. We shouldn't be praying for vocations. There are all kinds of vocations. What we need to pray for is the insight to see who are the ones God is truly calling."

What he's saying is, of course, is that within the church there are many, many people ready for leadership, for service and ministry, but we've put our framework around those we think are qualified by human terms within the human framework. There are thousands of people ready to be ordained into leadership in our church, but because we have decided the boundaries, we don't have the leadership that we need. We must pray not for vocations. God gives vocations. God is calling people all the time. What we need to pray for is to have new sight, to have the ability to see where God is leading and not what we have decided.

In the little black book, Bishop Untener writes about today's gospel:

Today's gospel about the miracle of the man born blind starkly contrasts the two approaches. The Pharisees stand pat. They are disciples of Moses and everything has been set. They are not open to any new discovery, any new insight, any new ways of looking at things. The other approach is represented by, of all people, the blind man. He is the only one who can say, "I don't know." He is the only one who is really open to discovery and to the eye-opener that Jesus is."

That is what we have to try to do, if we can, allow ourselves to remain open, to pray for the insights that we need to try to truly get to know Jesus. We should pray to see Jesus not just in the framework that we always have and that we've settled upon as safe, but to begin to try to know Jesus as deeply as possible. Maybe then we'll find that Jesus is leading us in a direction different from where we'd want to go otherwise. Maybe we will come to discover Jesus showing love for the poor and the oppressed, Jesus reaching out to the rejected and marginalized. If we really ask for the insight and the ability to see, to break out of our boundaries, and try to know Jesus as deeply as possible, we will discover, perhaps, Jesus entering our lives in ways that never happened before.

I think to some extent that's what I have discovered so powerfully when I've gone to Haiti as I did just over a week ago. There, in the poorest country in our hemisphere, I really believe that I have found Jesus in a way that I don't find Jesus in the very affluent culture in which we live in this country. Last time I was there, a week and a half ago, I went into the part of Port Au Prince called Cite de Soleil. Well, this is a huge slum. Hundreds of thousands of people living in the most abject poverty you can ever imagine. It's overwhelming when you walk into the shacks, really, single room shacks, where these people live, and we went into quite a number of them. We were trying to visit people who were sick; some had been wounded when fired upon by the police.

In every one of those shacks, I really felt the presence of Jesus in a way I've never felt before. I have come to understand that Jesus is -- as he has always proclaimed -- with and for the poor. He is among them, and when I can be among those poor people, I am closer to Jesus than at any other time. It's an overwhelming experience, a very powerful experience. You also come to understand how poor people reach out to one another and protect one another and try to share the very meager things that they have with one another. So you understand how Jesus, present in the poor, brings love and goodness in that presence.

I'm not sure exactly what all that means for me or for any of us. I guess it means somehow if we really want to have the insight to know God and Jesus, we have to make an even greater effort, each of us, to reach out to the poor and to discover that Jesus is present among them. That doesn't mean necessarily that we have to go to Haiti or some other terribly poor place in the world. It does mean that right in our own city, our own neighborhood, there are people in need. We need to reach out to them. Perhaps each of us then will find Jesus more fully than we ever have before.

There is one final thing that we should reflect on as we make this commitment to know Jesus more deeply. As Jesus leads us to be among the poor and for the poor and work to change the situation of the poor, we will find -- as the man in today's Gospel found -- that as we come closer to Jesus we are rejected by others. The man in the Gospel today, as he got that insight into Jesus, first he was rejected by his own parents. "He knows," they said. "He's old enough. Go speak to him." But even more, he was rejected by the leaders of the Jewish religion, the Pharisees. They drove him away from the synagogue. They told him he's not welcome any longer.

We must expect that sometimes we will be rejected. As we reach out to others, especially the poor and the oppressed, and work for their good, we will be rejected. I know it's happened to those in Haiti who have tried very hard to work for the poor. I've mentioned to you before Fr. Gerard Jean-Juste who was put into prison for six weeks. He was not charged with anything, but he had been trying to work to help the poor to be lifted up.

During this last trip to Haiti, we stayed at a house where we usually stay, and the police raided it. They came with guns and took Ron Voss, who runs Visitation House, and held him for questioning for four days. They still haven't placed any charges or given any reason why they arrested him. The only thing that is clear is that he works for the poor and was a strong supporter of President Aristide, who had made his government one for the poor. Ron is in danger even now of losing everything in Haiti, being expelled from the country because he works for the poor and the oppressed.

As we reflect on this and try to discover where Jesus is leading us, I hope we will pray with great fervor that we will not be blind but have new sight. If we do and we are willing to follow Jesus, then what St. Paul says to the church of Ephesus will become true of this church: "You were once in darkness but now you are in the light in Jesus. Behave as children of the light. Follow Jesus and the fruits of light are kindness, justice and truth in every form." Think what our world would be if all of us became truly children of the light and followed Jesus. Then we would have kindness, justice, truth and peace in every form.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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