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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.
  Palm Sunday of the Lord's Passion April 4, 2004

This week's readings **
Isaiah 50:4-7
The Lord GOD has given me a well-trained tongue, that I might know how to speak to the weary a word that will rouse them. Morning after morning he opens my ear that I may hear; and I have not rebelled, have not turned back. I gave my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who plucked my beard; my face I did not shield from buffets and spitting. The Lord GOD is my help, therefore I am not disgraced; I have set my face like flint, knowing that I shall not be put to shame.

Philippians 2:6-11
Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Luke 23:1-49
The elders of the people, chief priests and scribes, arose and brought Jesus before Pilate. They brought charges against him, saying, "We found this man misleading our people; he opposes the payment of taxes to Caesar and maintains that he is the Christ, a king." Pilate asked him, "Are you the king of the Jews?" He said to him in reply, "You say so." Pilate then addressed the chief priests and the crowds, "I find this man not guilty." But they were adamant and said, "He is inciting the people with his teaching throughout all Judea, from Galilee where he began even to here." On hearing this Pilate asked if the man was a Galilean; and upon learning that he was under Herod's jurisdiction, he sent him to Herod who was in Jerusalem at that time. Herod was very glad to see Jesus; he had been wanting to see him for a long time, for he had heard about him and had been hoping to see him perform some sign. He questioned him at length, but he gave him no answer. The chief priests and scribes, meanwhile, stood by accusing him harshly. Herod and his soldiers treated him contemptuously and mocked him, and after clothing him in resplendent garb, he sent him back to Pilate. Herod and Pilate became friends that very day, even though they had been enemies formerly. Pilate then summoned the chief priests, the rulers, and the people and said to them, "You brought this man to me and accused him of inciting the people to revolt. I have conducted my investigation in your presence and have not found this man guilty of the charges you have brought against him, nor did Herod, for he sent him back to us. So no capital crime has been committed by him. Therefore I shall have him flogged and then release him." But all together they shouted out, "Away with this man! Release Barabbas to us." --Now Barabbas had been imprisoned for a rebellion that had taken place in the city and for murder.-- Again Pilate addressed them, still wishing to release Jesus, but they continued their shouting, "Crucify him! Crucify him!" Pilate addressed them a third time, "What evil has this man done? I found him guilty of no capital crime. Therefore I shall have him flogged and then release him." With loud shouts, however, they persisted in calling for his crucifixion, and their voices prevailed. The verdict of Pilate was that their demand should be granted. So he released the man who had been imprisoned for rebellion and murder, for whom they asked, and he handed Jesus over to them to deal with as they wished. As they led him away they took hold of a certain Simon, a Cyrenian, who was coming in from the country; and after laying the cross on him, they made him carry it behind Jesus. A large crowd of people followed Jesus, including many women who mourned and lamented him. Jesus turned to them and said, "Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep instead for yourselves and for your children for indeed, the days are coming when people will say, 'Blessed are the barren, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed.' At that time people will say to the mountains, 'Fall upon us!' and to the hills, 'Cover us!' for if these things are done when the wood is green what will happen when it is dry?" Now two others, both criminals, were led away with him to be executed. When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him and the criminals there, one on his right, the other on his left. Then Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, they know not what they do." They divided his garments by casting lots. The people stood by and watched; the rulers, meanwhile, sneered at him and said, "He saved others, let him save himself if he is the chosen one, the Christ of God." Even the soldiers jeered at him. As they approached to offer him wine they called out, "If you are King of the Jews, save yourself." Above him there was an inscription that read, "This is the King of the Jews." Now one of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus, saying, "Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us." The other, however, rebuking him, said in reply, "Have you no fear of God, for you are subject to the same condemnation? And indeed, we have been condemned justly, for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes, but this man has done nothing criminal." Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." He replied to him, "Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise." It was now about noon and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon because of an eclipse of the sun. Then the veil of the temple was torn down the middle. Jesus cried out in a loud voice, "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit"; and when he had said this he breathed his last. Here all kneel and pause for a short time. The centurion who witnessed what had happened glorified God and said, "This man was innocent beyond doubt." When all the people who had gathered for this spectacle saw what had happened, they returned home beating their breasts; but all his acquaintances stood at a distance, including the women who had followed him from Galilee and saw these events.

* 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.

Now we take just a few moments to reflect in an attempt to discover the deepest meaning of what we have just heard. I am sure all of us are aware of how over the past few weeks, even months, we have been inundated with talk of the film "The Passion of the Christ." The emphasis has been on Jesus being brutalized, victimized, and becoming a helpless victim who seems almost totally passive, being crushed with a kind of a violence that is almost too much for most people to even watch and absorb.

Supposedly, according to that kind of theology, this was what God demanded. God demanded that Jesus be so totally destroyed and suffer so terribly to pay for our sin.

But if we listen really carefully to the scriptures, that's not the message. Jesus was not a helpless victim. What kind of a God would demand that God's only Son be treated that way and demand that kind of a payment? We can almost not imagine a crueler image of God. It certainly does not fit into our understanding of God is. God is love and only love.

Listen to the first reading today. The servant, who serves as a type of Jesus, says: "God has taught me, so I speak as God's disciple. Morning after morning God wakes me up to hear, to listen, like a disciple. God has opened my ear. I have not despaired for God comes to my help. So, like a flint, I set my face knowing that I will not be disgraced."

That does not sound like someone who is to be a helpless victim. That is someone who will suffer but in the midst of that suffering will be strong and confident that God is a God who loves him. The servant is willing to trust, to listen deeply, to follow the way God is leading.

And listen to the Gospel today. You don't find an emphasis on the horror of the sufferings of Jesus. In fact, in that long Gospel, there are only three brief mentions of the suffering: "His sweat fell like drops of blood the soldiers beat him he was crucified." That's how Luke describes it. He doesn't try to overwhelm us with the impact of the suffering, because something much deeper is going on. Yes, because of sin, there is hatred, brutality and violence in our world. And it is heaped upon us and we heap it upon one another. It was heaped upon Jesus. But he did not become a helpless victim.

If you follow Jesus through his suffering and death, you will find that Jesus is leading and guiding what is happening. He is accepting and choosing to follow this way of God. He stands before Pilate, as we see in the first station, and Pilate says to him: "Don't you know that I have the power of life and death over you?" Pilate, representing the power of the Roman Empire, is trying to intimidate Jesus. Jesus simply says to Pilate: "You wouldn't have any power over me if it were not given to you from above." Jesus is not intimidated. He does not become the victim of the Roman Empire or of anyone else.

Jesus continues his work of healing even in the midst of all his suffering. When the one disciple uses a sword to try and defend Jesus, he says: "Put it away." And when the disciple cuts off the ear of the servant of the high priest, Jesus reaches out to heal and continues to show love. He continues to be the one who is guiding what is happening. As he goes along the way of the cross, as Luke reminds us today, when He comes upon people who are lamenting and weeping, he says, "Don't weep for me." He reaches out to them and tries to comfort them. He tells them to pray for themselves and for their children, generation after generation.

Even on the cross, Jesus is the one who is in control, if you will, the one who is leading what is happening. He reaches out in compassion to the other criminal crucified next to him: "This day you will be with me in paradise." Jesus knows what is happening and invites the criminal to be with him.

At the very end, Jesus commits himself in total trust to God. "Father, into your hands I hand over my Spirit." He is saying: I die trusting in you who have led me to this. But he was not a victim, helpless and crushed.

Neither did he come back to crush his enemies. You see, those who are preaching this idea that Jesus is the helpless victim are also preaching that Jesus is going to come back as a warrior of God and destroy all of his enemies. That is not the Jesus who is revealed in this gospel or in the scriptures. Jesus, if we listen to St. Paul in our second lesson today, "willingly emptied himself. Though he was God, he did not think his divinity something to be clung to. He emptied himself so that he could become one of us, enter into our human history." Yes, he was handed over to death -- and it was an ignominious death on the cross -- but not to be a helpless victim but to be raised up and glorified, to be the one at whose name every knee on earth, above the earth and under the earth will fall in adoration.

That is who Jesus is.

And why is he raised up? Why is he glorified? Because he continues to show us the way of God that is the way of love. In the midst of all his sufferings, never once did Jesus reach out to retaliate, to condemn, to curse those who abused him. He always responded with love. He responded with total love: "Father, forgive them."

Forgive us! He is not paying some terrible price to a cruel God who demands it. Jesus is following the way of God , the way of love. And Jesus is inviting us to follow the same way. Jesus said earlier in his life: "When I am lifted up, [and he meant when he is raised up on the Cross] I will draw all people to myself." It is love that will change everything and that is the message Jesus is teaching us through his suffering, death and resurrection.

So, as we reflect on his sufferings and death during Holy Week, I hope we will remember most of all that Jesus, when he is raised up draws all people to himself by his love. And I hope that we will try to imitate that love and transform our world by drawing all people to ourselves through love.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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