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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.
|Fourth Sunday of Lent||March 21, 2004|
Yesterday at our day of prayer, which was a very moving experience for all of us, Derrick Edwards opened the day by welcoming us and inviting everyone to recite that mantra we use every so often: "God is good all the time." If we listen to today's scripture, we'll experience that, and maybe understand more deeply how good God really is -- to me, to each one of us. God's goodness is revealed so clearly in the lessons today.
In the first lesson, the chosen people have been struggling through the desert for a long time. Finally, they get to the Promised Land and are ready to celebrate. But Moses reminds them of what God said: "Today I have removed from you the shame of Egypt." It was God's love that reached out to them, God's love that freed them from that slavery. God's initiative. God reached out to them first, and Moses and Joshua wanted the people to know that, to experience it and celebrate it.
God had nourished them during those long years in the desert with manna and quail. God had watched over them every moment. God said to Moses: "I have heard the cries of the people. I've heard them! That's why I have compassion on them." God loved them so much that God freed them from slavery, so now they were ready to celebrate as they entered into the Promised Land. They no longer needed the manna or the quail, because they had their own produce to eat. God is good and the people knew it and rejoiced.
In the second lesson, St. Paul reminds us by referring to creation how everything, including every one of us, is loved into being by a God who is good. Everything is here because of God's goodness and God's love. I'm here because God loved me into being.
St. Paul reminds us of something else that shows us how good God is and how powerful is God's love. St. Paul said: "Whoever is in Christ is a new creation. The old things have passed away. A new world has come." Once we have been baptized into Christ Jesus, we are a whole new creation, living with the very life of God. Paul said: "All of this is the work of God who in Christ reconciled us to God."
You didn't earn this work of God. I didn't earn it. We haven't done anything to merit it. God loves us. That is why we have been made new creatures with the life of Jesus in us. That is why we have been given the inheritance of everlasting life. God is so good. You must begin to let that sink in deeply. God is good. God is good to me. God has made me a new creation in Jesus -- reconciled me, made me whole, made me loving and lovable.
That's how good God is. Jesus, of course, understood this clearly. He went among the sinners, the tax collectors, the prostitutes, because he understood clearly the goodness of God. The people whom everyone else would reject -- to these people, Jesus reached out. Of course, the Pharisees and the scribes, those who thought they were so good, were angry with Jesus. Jesus knew that God wanted him to reach out to the people who needed him most of all, to reach out and draw them back. The Pharisees and scribes couldn't understand that.
Jesus told us a marvelous parable. It's a story that is easy for us to remember, and it's such a powerful story. He told us of two sons. One was obviously no good, a sinner; he wasted all the good things his father had given him living a life of terrible sinfulness, dissipation and self-destruction. The father, who is the image of God, waited patiently for that son to return, and at the first sight of the son coming back, the father rushed out to him. The father ran to embrace the son and to rejoice: "The one who is dead is now alive! My son who was lost is found!" God is filled with joy. The image of the father in that story is powerful and clear.
The father also reached out to the elder son. But that son misunderstood his father's actions. He said: "I have slaved for you all these years"; he didn't realize his father didn't want him to be a slave. The father loved him. The father said to this son: "Don't you realize everything I have is yours?" The son didn't reciprocate in love. He only acted out of an obligation, a sense of servility. Sometimes we are like that, I am afraid. We don't realize how much God loves us. We think we have to do something to merit that love. Well, that's foolish. We can't merit the love of God. It is a gift, pure gift.
What Jesus tried to get us to see by telling that powerful story was that each one of us is loved by God and everything that God has to share is ours. All we have to do is turn toward God, be open and ready to receive God's love poured into our hearts. Those are the words of St. Paul to the church of Rome: "God's love is poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit who is given to us."
St. Paul, in the second lesson today, showed us the depth of God's love, which Jesus knew so clearly. Paul said at the end of the lesson: "Jesus had no sin, but God made him sin so that in him we might share the holiness of God." That seems a strange way to talk about Jesus. "God made him sin." What does Paul mean? Paul is thinking of Jesus hanging on the cross. Perhaps we've seen a movie about the Passion of Christ or, better, perhaps we've made the Way of the Cross and read the scriptures. We realize what it means to hang on the cross, that symbol of hatred, violence and brutality. Everything that happened to Jesus was evil; the hatred, violence and brutality directed at him: being stripped of his garments, totally degraded and nailed to the cross. His hanging on the cross is a sign of sin so dramatic that Paul says: "He became sin for us so that we could be reconciled to God."
How does reconciliation happen? It comes through the way Jesus responded to that hatred and brutality, that sin. He did not respond with hatred or violence; he did not try to be brutal in return. He responded with love and forgiveness.
This reminds me of another story, a story about a Civil Rights worker back in the '60s. Black people weren't allowed to sit at lunch counters, so whites and blacks went together for what they called a "sit-in." As they sat there, they would be insulted and spat upon. People would dump ketchup and mustard on their heads, do anything to show hate to them. One of them, a black person, was asked: "Why don't you respond?" He said: "I will let them kick me and kick me until they have kicked all the hatred out of themselves and into my body where I will transform it into love."
That's what Jesus does for us, and that's what we need to try to do in this world in which we live. Absorb that hatred, that violence, that brutality. Let it be transformed into love within us. That could change the world, if we learn the lesson of how much God loves us.
What God expects of us in return is to love and to respond with love. So, as we reflect on these lessons today, I hope we will come to a deep understanding: God is love, all the time. God loves us, all the time. Rejoice in that and thank God for that. We could spend all our time just thanking God for how good God is to us.
But we also have to learn something from the elder son -- something to avoid. Sometimes we have a tendency not to let God be God. We want God to be like us, and so we resent it when God forgives and when God loves. That's what was wrong with the elder son. He didn't want God to be a God of total and unlimited, unconditional love. That's what we have to be careful to avoid.
We must let God be God and then try to be like God in loving everyone, even our enemy. That, in fact, is the mission that St. Paul gave us. Paul said: "So we present ourselves as ambassadors in the name of Christ." God appeals to the world through us. God has entrusted to us the ministry of reconciliation, a very challenging ministry. If we really listen to what God is saying to us and pay attention to what God is doing for us, we will understand that his ministry for each one of us is a ministry of reconciliation.
Maybe there is someone in our family with whom we have had a falling-out and the relationship needs to be reconciled. Maybe there is somebody at work, at school or in our neighborhood for whom we need to be a minister of reconciliation. Doing so would be imitating God, reaching out as God does.
On a larger scale, in our world, we have to keep trying to live and to carry out this message to end the violence all around us, the violence that overwhelms our country and our world. By living this way of God, we come to a better understanding of how good God is to each one of us and how much God loves us. When we see how God has reached out to us and reconciled us, we can accept that we, too, can be ministers of reconciliation in our world.
As I said, if we really understand how much God loves and live accordingly, everything in our world can change and we will find true peace in our hearts and everywhere.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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