Would you like to donate to NCR?

The Peace Pulpit:  Homiles by Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton

  Palm Sunday of the Lord's Passion March 20, 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 **
For the procession before Mass
Matthew 21:1-11
When they had approached Jerusalem and had come to Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, "Go into the village opposite you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied there and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to Me. "If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, 'The Lord has need of them,' and immediately he will send them." This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet: "SAY TO THE DAUGHTER OF ZION, 'BEHOLD YOUR KING IS COMING TO YOU, GENTLE, AND MOUNTED ON A DONKEY, EVEN ON A COLT, THE FOAL OF A BEAST OF BURDEN.'" The disciples went and did just as Jesus had instructed them, and brought the donkey and the colt, and laid their coats on them; and He sat on the coats. Most of the crowd spread their coats in the road, and others were cutting branches from the trees and spreading them in the road. The crowds going ahead of Him, and those who followed, were shouting, "Hosanna to the Son of David; BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD; Hosanna in the highest!" When He had entered Jerusalem, all the city was stirred, saying, "Who is this?" And the crowds were saying, "This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth in Galilee."

Isaiah 50:4-7
The Lord GOD has given Me the tongue of disciples, that I may know how to sustain the weary one with a word He awakens Me morning by morning, He awakens My ear to listen as a disciple. The Lord GOD has opened My ear; and I was not disobedient nor did I turn back. I gave My back to those who strike Me, and My cheeks to those who pluck out the beard; I did not cover My face from humiliation and spitting. For the Lord GOD helps Me, therefore, I am not disgraced; therefore, I have set My face like flint, and I know that I will not be ashamed.

Philippians 2:6-11
Who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Matthew 26:14-27:66 or 27:11-54
Now Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor questioned Him, saying, "Are You the King of the Jews?" And Jesus said to him, "It is as you say." And while He was being accused by the chief priests and elders, He did not answer. Then Pilate said to Him, "Do You not hear how many things they testify against You?" And He did not answer him with regard to even a single charge, so the governor was quite amazed. Now at the feast the governor was accustomed to release for the people any one prisoner whom they wanted. At that time they were holding a notorious prisoner, called Barabbas. So when the people gathered together, Pilate said to them, "Whom do you want me to release for you? Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?" For he knew that because of envy they had handed Him over. While he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent him a message, saying, "Have nothing to do with that righteous Man; for last night I suffered greatly in a dream because of Him." But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowds to ask for Barabbas and to put Jesus to death. But the governor said to them, "Which of the two do you want me to release for you?" And they said, "Barabbas." Pilate said to them, "Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?" They all said, "Crucify Him!" And he said, "Why, what evil has He done?" But they kept shouting all the more, saying, "Crucify Him!" When Pilate saw that he was accomplishing nothing, but rather that a riot was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd, saying, "I am innocent of this Man's blood; see to that yourselves." And all the people said, "His blood shall be on us and on our children!" Then he released Barabbas for them; but after having Jesus scourged, he handed Him over to be crucified. Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole Roman cohort around Him. They stripped Him and put a scarlet robe on Him. And after twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on His head, and a reed in His right hand; and they knelt down before Him and mocked Him, saying, "Hail, King of the Jews!" They spat on Him, and took the reed and began to beat Him on the head. After they had mocked Him, they took the scarlet robe off Him and put His own garments back on Him, and led Him away to crucify Him. As they were coming out, they found a man of Cyrene named Simon, whom they pressed into service to bear His cross. And when they came to a place called Golgotha, which means Place of a Skull, they gave Him wine to drink mixed with gall; and after tasting it, He was unwilling to drink. And when they had crucified Him, they divided up His garments among themselves by casting lots. And sitting down, they began to keep watch over Him there. And above His head they put up the charge against Him which read, "THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS." At that time two robbers were crucified with Him, one on the right and one on the left. And those passing by were hurling abuse at Him, wagging their heads and saying, "You who are going to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save Yourself! If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross." In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes and elders, were mocking Him and saying, He saved others; He cannot save Himself He is the King of Israel; let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe in Him. HE TRUSTS IN GOD; LET GOD RESCUE Him now, IF HE DELIGHTS IN HIM; for He said, 'I am the Son of God.'" The robbers who had been crucified with Him were also insulting Him with the same words. Now from the sixth hour darkness fell upon all the land until the ninth hour. About the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, "ELI, ELI, LAMA SABACHTHANI?" that is, "MY GOD, MY GOD, WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME?" And some of those who were standing there, when they heard it, began saying, "This man is calling for Elijah." Immediately one of them ran, and taking a sponge, he filled it with sour wine and put it on a reed, and gave Him a drink. But the rest of them said, "Let us see whether Elijah will come to save Him." And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit. And behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth shook and the rocks were split. The tombs were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the tombs after His resurrection they entered the holy city and appeared to many. Now the centurion, and those who were with him keeping guard over Jesus, when they saw the earthquake and the things that were happening, became very frightened and said, "Truly this was the Son of God!"

* 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 listen to the account in Matthew's Gospel -- and we find it also, of course, in the other three Gospels -- of the passion and death of Jesus it's almost inevitable that we would begin to wonder: Where might I be in that whole narrative? Of all the different people talked about in this narrative, which one would I be? Probably the only ones who come through with any kind of integrity, the people you would really admire, are the women. If you make the way of the cross, you come to the fourth station and there's Mary who never gave up, waited to see Jesus and then walked with him. It was just like he had told her, that she would be with him until he died. Veronica wiped his face. The women stood by praying for him as he walked by. The only ones left at the cross when he finally died were Mary his mother, Mary's cousin, Mary the wife of Cleophas and Mary Magdalene. John was the one apostle there but that's all. All the others have fled.

Some people, of course, had very terrible participation in the whole event. The religious leaders who turned Jesus over to Pilot. And Pilot himself tried to wash his hands of the whole thing, pretend he wasn't involved. The soldiers who did the gruesome task of nailing him, crucifying him and then divided up his garments, throwing dice to see who got what. There's all these different people in there. Peter, think of him. So bold. "Everybody else might deny you, but I'll never deny you." Then of course a little girl, a teenager, said, "You're one of them." Peter fell apart and said, "No, I don't even know him." He denied Jesus, and like all the other disciples ran away.

So where would I be? I think if we were honest about it -- and this may be hard to hear and to accept -- we would be like Judas. Judas Iscariot, the one who actually betrayed him. In his Gospel, John described Judas as a petty thief. He also kept track of the money and wanted more money all the time, so he sold Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. I don't think we would do that.

But what really was going on with Judas? The truth about Judas was that he could not accept who Jesus was and what Jesus taught. Judas was probably a very idealistic young man when Jesus called him to be a disciple. Judas was angry, in a just way, about the occupation of the Promised Land by the Romans. The occupying army was doing all kinds of cruel things to the people, keeping them poor and oppressed, and Judas was among a group of revolutionaries who wanted to get rid of the Roman occupiers. When he first heard Jesus preach, I suppose, in that synagogue at Nazareth -- "The spirit of God is upon me. God sends me to proclaim good news to the poor, to heal the broken hearted, to give the blind new sight, to set the downtrodden free!" -- it sounded just like what Judas was looking for, someone who would really struggle for the poor and the oppressed and overthrow the Roman occupiers.

Judas became a fervent follower of Jesus. He must have thought, "Here's the time it's going to happen." So you have to wonder what went through the mind of Judas when he began to hear Jesus preaching things like "blessed are the poor," "blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice," "blessed are the peacemakers" or when Jesus said "You heard that it was said of old love your neighbor, hate your enemy. I say to you love your enemy. Do good to the one who hurts you. If somebody wants you to go one mile go two. If somebody strikes you on one cheek turn the other. If somebody takes your cloak give them your coat also." Judas began to hear all of that. I suppose he began to wonder, "What's going on? Is he really going to overthrow the Romans or not?"

Well, Jesus was determined to bring about a revolution, there's no doubt about it. He meant it when he said that he came to proclaim good news to the poor. He meant all those things that he said. But because of his own prayer and deep communion with God, Jesus was also very much aware of those things that the prophets had said about the one who was to restore the kingdom to Israel, the one who was to bring about this revolution. For example, in today's first lesson: "God has opened my ear. I have not rebelled nor have I withdrawn. I offered my back to those who strike me, my cheek to those who pulled my beard. Neither did I shield my face from blows, spittle and disgraced." Jesus understood that he had to accept suffering rather than inflict suffering.

Jesus was set to change everything, yes. But if you listen deeply to God's word, Matthew's account of Jesus' riding into Jerusalem on that donkey takes you back into the book of the prophet Zachariah. This was a time for a new king to come to Israel, but it wasn't going to be a typical kind of king. It was going to be a king who would not build up an army, would not ride into Jerusalem on a horse, armed and leading troops. This king would come into Jerusalem in a very simple way -- a poor person riding on the back of the donkey. A symbol of peace. Jesus understood that and that's how he began to preach and to act.

Even in his crucifixion and death, of course, he reached out in forgiveness and love. He never retaliated. The very ones who nailed him to the cross, he prayed for them. He was concerned for the two revolutionaries nailed to crosses along side of him. He prayed for them. He interacted with them. Jesus was always reaching out at every moment. It was a whole different way. Yes, he came to bring good news to the poor, to set the downtrodden free, but not through violence! Not through war.

Here it is 2,000 years later. Have we really heard the message of Jesus? This weekend is the second anniversary of when we decided again that we had to go to war to try to bring peace. It was only a continuation of what we did back in 1991 and twelve and a half years of sanctions. We try to bring peace and justice through violence and killing. That is not the way of Jesus! That is so clear if you listen to what goes on in this account of the passion, suffering and death of Jesus.

The truth is captured most powerfully, I think, in the peace day statement that Pope John Paul II developed and promulgated for Jan. 1 of this current year, a year when there is war and violence and killing going on in so many places in the world. The war of terrorism. John Paul said, "To obtain the good of peace there must be a clear and conscious acknowledgment that violence is an unacceptable evil and that it never solves problems." That's what Judas couldn't understand or accept, and I think if you look at our country, our church within this country, we have to ask: Have we really accepted that truth, that to obtain peace there must be a clear and conscious acknowledgment that violence is an unacceptable evil and never solves problems?

John Paul went on to say, "Violence is a lie. It goes against the truth of our faith, the truth of our humanity. Do not believe in violence. Do not support violence. It is not the Christian way. It is not the way of the Catholic church. Believe in peace and forgiveness and love for they are of Christ." That is what Judas could not accept, and I'm afraid that many of us don't deeply accept it either.

We need conversion if we are going to enter into this Holy Week, if we are going to enter into the suffering, the death, the crucifixion, but then the rise into new life of Jesus. We have to try to be faithful to who he is and what he's teaching. How do we do that? Turn to the first lesson today; the prophet describing this servant who is a faithful disciple said, "God has taught me, so I speak as his disciple and I know how to sustain the weary. Morning after morning God wakes me to hear, to listen like a disciple." That is the very least we need to do: listen, listen deeply to everything Jesus says, everything he says through his actions.

Listen. Listen deeply. Then gradually -- I don't think it will happen overnight -- we will be converted. Then it will be true of us what St. Paul said in the second reading: "Have this mind in you which was in Christ, Jesus, who though he was God did not think his divinity something to be clung to but emptied himself, emptied himself, made himself vulnerable, weak, became fully human like us, gave himself over to death, even the death of the cross and that God could fill him with the wonder and glory and the power of God which is the power of love."

God can do that to us, change us, enable us to give up violence, hatred and vengeance and retaliation and be filled with love as was Jesus. He wants us to listen deeply each day, empty ourselves, and let ourselves be filled with God. We will be able to follow the way of Jesus and then truly bring the peace and the love of Jesus into our world.

In the name of the father and of the son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Copyright © 2005 The National Catholic Reporter Publishing  Company, 115 E. Armour Blvd., Kansas City, MO 64111  TEL:  1-816-531-0538   FAX:  1-816-968-2280