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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.
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Fifth Sunday of Lent
April 6, 2003
This week's readings **

Jeremiah 31:31-34

Behold, the days come, says Yahweh, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they broke, although I was master to them, says Yahweh. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days. I will place my law within them and write it upon their hearts; I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer will they have need to teach their friends and relatives how to know the LORD. for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,  for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin will I remember no more. 

Hebrews 5:7-9

In the days when Jesus was in the flesh, he offered up prayers and petitions with strong crying and tears to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered; and when he was made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.

John 12:20-33

Now there were certain Greeks among those that went up to worship at the feast. These, therefore, came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida of Galilee, and asked him, saying, "Sir, we want to see Jesus." Philip came and told Andrew, and in turn, Andrew came with Philip, and they told Jesus. Jesus answered them, "The time has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Most assuredly I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains by itself alone. But if it dies, it bears much fruit. He who loves his life will lose it. He who hates his life in this world will keep it to eternal life. If anyone serves me, let him follow me. Where I am, there will my servant also be. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.

"Now my soul is troubled. What shall I say? 'Father, save me from this time?' But for this cause I came to this time. Father, glorify your name!"

Then there came a voice out of the sky, saying, "I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again."

The multitude therefore, who stood by and heard it, said that it had thundered. Others said, "An angel has spoken to him."

Jesus answered, "This voice hasn't come for my sake, but for your sakes. Now is the judgment of this world. Now the prince of this world will be cast out. And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself." But he said this, signifying by what kind of death he should 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.

In the Gospel lesson, Jesus declares that anyone who follows him will be with him and follow his way, the way of Jesus.  And that is a very challenging idea, to think that we must be with Jesus and follow his way.  And today it is especially appropriate that we be aware of this because, as we celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation, we will be challenged to see how closely we follow the way of Jesus. 

 In the Gospel lesson, Jesus points out that those who love their life in this world will lose it. And Jesus says that the ruler of this world will be cast down.  As we hear those words we must be careful to distinquish because it can almost sound as though Jesus is saying we must despise ourselves, our life, who we are; and that this world is not good, it is not a blessed place.  But Jesus does not intend us to put ourselves down.  We must have a profound respect for who we are, a sense of self-love and self-esteem.  And the world is not an evil place in itself.  When God created the world, as we are told in the Book of Genesis, we are told God looked upon it all and said, “It is good.” 

But there is another way in which Jesus does want us to reflect on -- how we can divert our life from his way and then it does become evil.  In John’s gospel, regularly he uses the word "world" not in the sense of this planet on which we live that God has made out of love for us but rather the world as it is in contrast to God’s goodness, the way that the world is sometimes organized in that people who follow the way of the world are really going against the way of Jesus. 

The other day I was reading [an article] about some books that the author of the article said has had a major influence on the thinking of our leaders and the direction in which we are going as a nation.  As I read about this it became very clear to me that there is an extraordinary distinction/difference between the way of the world and the way of Jesus as so many people understand the way of the world. 

In one article, the author, Peter Steinfels, says: 

One paradoxical possibility is that while United States foreign policy is expressed in terms of the president’s evangelical faith, it is being forged on what the author, Robert D. Kaplan, calls a pagan ethos. 

Mr. Kaplan, a correspondent for The Atlantic Monthly with years of reporting experience from some of the world’s most violent war zones, made the case for conducting United States foreign policy according to such an ethos in his book, "Warrior Politics: Why Leadership Demands a Pagan Ethos." 

The book “is a brief for a cold-eyed, hard-headed, self-interested American realism freed from the constraints of a Judeo-Christian morality of good intentions.”  In Mr. Kaplan’s view, “a world tottering on the edge of anarchy and chaos demands a kind of stealth American empire that does not speak its name but wields its power” wherever it can. 

There is much in the book that accurately describes the spirit now presiding over the United States’ foreign policy.  Asked yesterday how he would rate the administration’s Iraq policy by the standard of his pagan ethos, Mr. Kaplan said, “Overall, pretty good.” 

The way of the world in contrast to the way of Jesus. 

One of the other authors who has influenced the thinking of our leaders asserted that we are in an outright bloody war against tyranny, intolerance and theocracy, and he called for going to war hard, long, without guilt, apology or respite until our enemies are no more. 

So much for loving your enemies. 

Newsweek Magazine said, “Mr. Cheney told his aides that that book reflected his own philosophy.”  For me it was almost a stark awakening that people would put it so bluntly that we must follow a pagan ethos and that is in direct contrast with what Jesus is telling us today in our Gospel because he is talking about how he is going to be put to death by the forces of this world that reject his way. 

And Jesus had to struggle against the temptation to give up his way.  It started when we read about Jesus and the temptations in the desert.  The main thrust of those temptations was that Jesus would follow the way of the world -- become rich by turning stones into bread -- become powerful by having at his command all the kingdoms of the earth with their armies and with their power to coerce,  to use violence, to dominate.  Jesus rejected all that.  He chose to follow a different way -- a way of love which can transform enemies into friends instead of destroying them.  A way of love which can transform our world into as close to the image of the reign of God as possible instead of risking its total destruction through weapons of mass destruction. 

And, even now, in today’s Gospel, toward the end of his life, Jesus is struggling once more.  He announces his death because if those Greeks wanted to meet him he wanted to make sure they understood that he was not a messiah who was going to take over the world.  He was a messiah that was ready to hand over his life -- to be killed rather than to kill.  And, to reassure himself, he tells that parable that we often reflect on, I think, when we think about our own death.  “The grain of wheat has to fall into the ground and die before it can come forth in new life.” 

It is a reassuring parable about our death and Jesus uses it to reassure himself about his death.  And yet, a moment later, as John describes it, Jesus is deeply troubled and cries out, “What shall I say?  God deliver me from this hour.” He dreaded it.  He did not want to be executed.  But then he prayed and said, “But this is why I have come.  And so when I am lifted up,”  he tells us, “I will draw all people to myself; through love, not through violence and destruction.  I will draw all people to myself.”  That is the way of Jesus.  Not the way of this pagan ethos that tells us we must arm ourselves -- that we must kill others -- bring about the total destruction of our enemies. 

“You heard it was said of old, ‘Love your neighbors, hate your enemy.’  I say love your enemy”.  And Jesus goes to his death living out his own teaching because even as they are putting him to death he prayed out of love for those who are doing it.  It is a very clear contrast, it seems to me -- the pagan ethos and the way of Jesus. 

 Jesus tells us, “Where I am, there my servant must also be.”  So, if we want to follow Jesus, it is clear we must reject the pagan ethos and accept his way of love.  It is the only way that will transform each of us and transform the world in which we live. 

As we really confront this challenge and the clear contrast between the way of the world and the way of Jesus, it may seem that it is almost too much for us to accept and to try and follow.  But that is where we need to reflect on the first lesson today where God assures us that no matter what our failings are or how often we have failed in the past, God is ready to enter into a new covenant with us -- a covenant that will not be just a list of laws written on scrolls or on tablets of stone -- but a covenant where God will live within our hearts and enable our hearts to be changed from within because God is ready to reach out and love everyone of us and enter into that new covenant with us. 

And we can also, as we try to reach a conviction to follow the way of Jesus, think about how in our second lesson Jesus is shown to us as one who cries out, pleads with God and God hears his prayer and he is strengthened.  For, as God says in the Gospel lesson, “When Jesus says glorify your name, God says ‘I have glorified it in you’, in Jesus because of the way of love you choose to follow to your death and resurrection.” 

In the second letter we are reminded that Jesus learned obedience through his suffering.  For what that word "obedience” means is that he learned to listen deeply.  The word "obedience" means that, to listen deeply. Jesus listened deeply to God within his heart and he was able to accept what God had asked of him, to allow himself to be lifted up so that he could draw all things to himself. 

In our own struggles, if we turn to God in prayer, just as God supported Jesus and allowed him to listen deeply and then to follow God’s way, I am convinced that we, too, even in the midst of our doubts and our struggles and difficulties and our sufferings, we will learn how to listen deeply to God and to Jesus and through that deep listening God will give us the strength, the determination, the courage to make the right judgments between the pagan ethos and the way of Jesus. And not only to make those judgments but also to have the courage to follow the way of Jesus and bring about the transformation of our own lives. And finally to bring about the transformation of our world into that image of the reign of God -- a reign of justice and peace for all people. 

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

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