Donate to NCR.
Your support keeps
this Web site running.

The Peace Pulpit:  Homilies by Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton

 Fifth Sunday of Lent April 2, 2006

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 **

Jeremiah 31:31-34
"Behold, days are coming," declares the LORD, "when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them," declares the LORD. But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days," declares the LORD, "I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them," declares the LORD, "for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more."

Hebrews 5:7-9
In the days of His flesh, He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His piety. Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered. And having been made perfect, He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation.

John 12:20-33
Now there were some Greeks among those who were going up to worship at the feast; these then came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida of Galilee, and began to ask him, saying, "Sir, we wish to see Jesus." Philip came and told Andrew; Andrew and Philip came and told Jesus. And Jesus answered them, saying, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it to life eternal. If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also; if anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him. Now My soul has become troubled; and what shall I say, 'Father, save Me from this hour'? But for this purpose I came to this hour. Father, glorify Your name " Then a voice came out of heaven: "I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again." So the crowd of people who stood by and heard it were saying that it had thundered; others were saying, "An angel has spoken to Him." Jesus answered and said, "This voice has not come for My sake, but for your sakes. Now judgment is upon this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out. And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself." But He was saying this to indicate the kind of death by which He was to die.

* 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.

The Scriptures today are very powerful -- a profound call to all of us. Especially the Gospel lesson. But to truly understand what is happening in the incident that is described in the Gospel, we have to go back to something that we heard at the beginning of Lent. The first Sunday of Lent, we heard about how Jesus was driven out into the desert to pray for 40 days and 40 nights in deep communion with God, and there he was assaulted by the devil, by very extreme temptations to follow a different way from what God was asking of him. When Luke describes that, he says, “When the devil had exhausted every way of tempting Jesus, he left him to return another time.” This is what is happening in the Gospel incident today. It’s the temptation presented to Jesus once more not to follow God’s way, which is so radical and so different that it seems it cannot really be something that human persons can follow.

The Greeks who wanted to see Jesus are people from outside the chosen people; they are called Greeks, but they are like aliens. They approach Phillip because he is from Bethsaida, which is on the border of the Promised Land of Galilee and beyond that are the outsiders. They heard about Jesus, they want to know Jesus, they want to see Jesus, and remember, this is happening at the beginning of the last week of the life of Jesus. He has just come into Jerusalem, people are proclaiming him the king of the Jews, the one who is going to restore their freedom, their liberty, the one who is going to push out the occupying Romans, the one who will be the great ruler. So these people want to get to know Jesus, but Jesus isn’t thinking at all about being a great ruler. He had rejected, in those temptations, what the devil was suggesting -- turn those stones into bread, you will have all the wealth of the world that you would want, people with wealth can do things, get things done, they are powerful; or be a wonderworker, throw yourself from the pinnacle of the Temple and God will hold you up and everybody will be astounded and people will come flocking to you; or have all the kingdoms of the world, the armies, the power, that’s how you’re going to change the world, dominate it, rule it with power, with armies, with wealth.

But Jesus is not thinking of that. He’s thinking of all that’s going to happen to him at the end of the week. He’s going to experience unbelievable suffering, torture and be put to death in the most cruel and shameful way that people could devise.

He tells the parable about the seed falling into the ground. I’m sure many of us have been consoled by that parable when we think about our death or the death of someone very close to us, how death is really like a seed falling into the ground and dying so it can break forth into new life. Jesus recites this parable for his own comfort at this moment, I think. He dreads his death -- as we would -- especially the terrible kind of death that he is going to experience. He begins to think about how, through his death, new life can come, marvelous life, unending life -- not just for himself but for all of humankind. So he tells that parable.

It must have been somewhat consoling and reassuring for him, as it would be for any of us. Yet, he still gets to the point where what’s going to happen begins to overwhelm him, and the temptation to do it another way must be very attractive, because John tells us that Jesus became very disturbed. The word John uses, the word that says Jesus was emotionally distraught, means “torn apart” within himself, and then he cries out, “What shall I say? God deliver me from this hour?” The real temptation is to say, “Deliver me from this way, let me go another way, the way that seems so attractive, that seems so sensible, that seems to be how everybody does it.”

I think we easily underestimate the turmoil in this reading, the stress that Jesus must have been feeling. We think somehow, “Oh, he knew what was going to happen, he wasn’t really under stress.” No, this is true, he as a human, in his humanness, he fully feared and wanted to reject the way that God was leading him. But then, as he did earlier, with God’s help, he is able to say, “No, no, don’t deliver me from this hour, this is why I have come, and so God, glorify your name.” Then God affirms this by saying, “I have glorified it and I will glorify it again.” Through the death and the resurrection of Jesus, God will glorify God’s name. And so Jesus accepts the way of God once more and very shortly he will be arrested and it will all begin to happen.

How does he come to accept it? Well certainly because he was in constant communion with God in his prayer, but the other lessons today suggest to us how Jesus must have tried to cope with the devil coming back again and always trying to take him from the way God was leading him.

Jesus at various times, and perhaps even at this instance, remembered those marvelous and beautiful, powerful words of Jeremiah. Here was a time when God’s people were under attack and Jeremiah had been warning them -- this had been going on for 50 years. He kept calling them back and the people kept rejecting God’s way and God’s word. Finally it happened, the Babylonian army came in, they destroyed the Temple, they carried the people off into exile. Now you would think there would be total despair. But there wasn’t. Jeremiah, with God’s insight, sees how God can bring good out of evil and how God takes the initiative.

The people have been unfaithful but God takes the initiative once more and says, “I will make a new covenant with you.” It’s something very hopeful. The relationship with God is not going to be destroyed forever and the new covenant is going to be something far more marvelous then the covenant God had made with the people through the agency of Moses and the two tablets with God’s ways written down on them.

Now God says, “This is the covenant I shall make with Israel after that time. I will put my law within their hearts.” Not just a written law on tablets of stone, but God will enter into the heart of each one. “I will be their God and they will be my people. They will not have to teach each other, neighbor or brother or sister, saying they know the Lord, because they will all know me, from the greatest to the lowliest. I will no longer remember their sins and will forgive their wrongdoing.”

God will begin to live and speak within the heart of each person, each one of us.

So in spite of the suffering, in spite of the evil that has been present in the world, in spite of what the Chosen People did in failing to live up to the covenant, in spite of how many times we fail, God is reaching out in love, taking a new initiative, making a new covenant with us, assuring us that God will enter into our hearts and write God’s very law of love within our hearts.

Each of us can know God, not through any other person, but each of us has immediate access to God. That’s a very hopeful and beautiful promise on God’s part, and I’m sure it’s what gave Jesus strength.

Also in that passage from the Letter to the Hebrews, we’re told how Jesus, “in the days of his mortal life, suffered with tears and cries, he prayed to God who could save him from death and although he was Son, he learned through suffering what obedience was.”

That word “obedience” is a very important word. It means to listen deeply. So from his suffering, Jesus was able to listen deeply to God and to experience deeply God speaking within him, showing him the way that he must go, assuring him that this is the way that the world will be transformed -- not through wealth and power and armies and kingdoms -- but through the fascinating power of love.

“I, when I am lifted up in the Crucifixion and the Resurrection, will be the image of unlimited love. I, when I am lifted up, will draw all people to myself, bring healing to the world, healing to every person, through that fascinating power of love, nothing else, only love and love not just of those who love us but love even of our enemies.” That’s how we will transform the world.

It’s so clear what Jesus is called to do and he accepts it. Now we as followers of Jesus, are we not called in the same way? To accept the same way of God’s love? How we will bring about the transformation of our world into the reign of God?

There are many ways in which we could apply this powerful Scripture lesson today, but I remind you once more of the program on the death penalty that we are having and how the church is now emphasizing that we must abolish such a cruel thing as the death penalty, must get rid of vindictiveness and vengeance, and love even perpetrators of terrible crimes. The Jesus, who could walk up to Judas, his betrayer, responsible for what was happening, and embrace him and kiss him, is a Jesus who surely is showing us “no” to the death penalty. Or the Jesus, who, while being lifted up, loving everyone, loves even those who were torturing him. “Father, forgive them.” Surely that same Jesus is teaching us that we must not, ever, kill another person for any reason whatsoever. Even the guilty person. No, the way of love is a way that has no limits. We love everyone, even our enemies.

The other thing that I think about is this strategic plan of the archdiocese -- it’s going to affect us. In some ways we’re going to have to change as a parish family because it’s very clear from the strategic plan that there will not be one priest for every parish in the Archdiocese of Detroit. Smaller parishes like ours are obviously not going to have their own priest as pastor, which is something that has gone on here for almost 120 years. So it’s a radical change, and we could be bitter and angry about it, but we can also, like Jesus, learn to listen deeply to our suffering and God will show us the way to new life, to greater life. If we continue to be a community that reaches out in love, then even if we don’t have our own priest or if we’re clustered with another parish or whatever, we can still be a community that demonstrates the way of God’s fascinating power of love. But it will take some prayer and some deep listening, in our suffering, to God’s word so that we can follow God’s way.

In a few moments we will celebrate the sacrament of reconciliation. This is one more time when God shows us how God reaches out with God’s initiative of love that will heal and make us whole. So as we celebrate that sacrament, I hope we will be trying to reflect deeply on all that God has spoken to us this morning, through God’s word. Then we will commit ourselves, truly, to try to reject those ways of power and wealth and violence, the ways of the world, and follow only the way of Jesus, the way that shows us that through the fascinating power of love, we can transform our own lives and transform our world.

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

*Editorís Note: The “Little Black Books” that Bishop Gumbleton mentions are produced in the Diocese of Saginaw, Michigan. During his tenure as bishop of the Saginaw, Bishop Ken Untener wrote inspirational passages based on Scripture for each day of special seasons of the Liturgical Church year, Advent, Lent, Easter. The name of each small book comes from the color of its simple cover: black, blue or white. They became so popular that parishes, religious orders, and other folks from beyond the diocese began ordering them. Bishop Untener died March 27, 2004, after a short struggle with cancer. In his honor and memory, his friends in the diocese continue to publish these meditation booklets. To order these books, visit the Web site for the Diocese of Saginaw.

Copyright © 2006 The National Catholic Reporter Publishing  Company, 115 E. Armour Blvd., Kansas City, MO 64111 | TEL: 1-816-531-0538 | FAX:  1-816-968-2280