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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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Fourth Sunday of Easter
May 11, 2003
This week's readings **

Acts 4:8-12

Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said: "Leaders of the people and elders: If we are being examined today about a good deed done to a cripple, namely, by what means he was saved, then all of you and all the people of Israel should know that it was in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazorean whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead; in his name this man stands before you healed. He is the stone rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved."

1 John 3:1-2

Beloved: See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God. Yet so we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God's children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed. We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.

John 10:11-18

Jesus said: "I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. A hired man, who is not a shepherd and whose sheep are not his own, sees a wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away, and the wolf catches and scatters them. This is because he works for pay and has no concern for the sheep. I am the good shepherd, and I know mine and mine know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I will lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. These also I must lead, and they will hear my voice, and there will be one flock, one shepherd. This is why the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own. I have power to lay it down, and power to take it up again. This command I have received from my Father."

 * 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.

To start our reflection today on the scripture readings I want us to be mindful of part of the Eucharistic prayer that we use quite often, where I proclaim, "Jesus now lives with you in glory but he is also here on earth among us." Jesus now lives with you in glory, speaking to God, but he is also on earth among us.

That is the reality that the first disciples were very much aware of, that Jesus is alive, that he is here on earth among us. It's a reality that we celebrate especially at Easter time. It's a reality that we must try to always keep in our awareness. Jesus is alive; he is here in our midst right now.

When the first lesson today from the Acts of the Apostles was written, it was probably 20, 30 maybe even 40 years after Jesus had died and risen from the dead and that first community was perhaps beginning to lose some sense of their awareness that Jesus is alive and that Jesus is in our midst. That is why Luke goes to the trouble of putting down in writing the things that had happened. It's many years later now, but he wants people to still be aware, and he wants us to be aware. Jesus is alive. So he tells the story of that healing and the consequences of it: The religious leaders arrested the disciples, because they were proclaiming this message about Jesus.

There was no tape recorder at the time and Luke didn't really have a transcript of what Peter said, so Luke puts together this passage that enables us to get a deeper sense of Jesus being alive and who Jesus really is. So Luke tells about the healing and how extraordinary this is the power of God is present in our midst right now to be a healing power. God really heals. Sometimes it's in our hearts and in our spirits. But it can also be the healing of our bodies. God is alive in Jesus in our midst.

That's what Luke is trying get across to that community then but also to us. Luke, putting words in the mouth of Peter, wants us to understand who Jesus is. That is why he uses that short passage from Psalm 118 about the stone that has been rejected has now become the cornerstone, the foundation stone. That was a passage that the people of Luke's time would have known very well. The Psalms were their daily prayers. But that particular Psalm and that passage from that Psalm was one that the chosen people had used often to remind themselves how they as a people -- a very tiny people in the midst of hostile nations -- had been rejected, had been despised, had been taken into captivity, forced into exile, as a stone rejected. But then God brings them back and re-establishes the people, builds a new people on this cornerstone that had been the rejected stone but now is the foundation of a new people.

Well, you can see very quickly how that applies to Jesus. Rejected, despised, tortured, executed. The stone rejected. But now he has been raised to life; he has begun to build a new people, and he is the very cornerstone. What had been a stumbling block to many now becomes the foundation for the new people of God. So Jesus in their midst is the foundation of who they are as God's people.

So we understand perhaps as we reflect on this a bit more about who Jesus is.

But as we continue to remember that Jesus is alive and is in our midst, we must think about the gospel lesson today where Jesus describes himself and wants us to know who he really is. The good shepherd, the one who really cares about his sheep. Not a hireling, not one who doesn't care, who runs away when there's a threat, when there's danger. But the good shepherd who's willing to lay down his life for his sheep, gives his all for his sheep. As we reflect upon Jesus who is alive and is in our midst, we must know that this is the kind of Jesus that is with us. One who cares about us at every moment, in every circumstance in our life. When things are difficult, when we are experiencing some suffering, some pain, some hurt, some loss, Jesus is in our midst as one who cares.

As I was reflecting on this, trying to understand more deeply who Jesus really is, I had to admit that a shepherd doesn't really say that much to me and I would guess that's true of many of us. How many of us have actually been in a rural area where we've taken care of sheep or watched people take care of sheep? You know a shepherd isn't a model that's very readily available to us because of the circumstances in which we live.

But when you understand what Jesus was trying to say about himself as a good shepherd, what's the image that could easily come to our minds, on this day especially? A mother, a mother is the one that Jesus really models. And you know that's not far fetched because at one point Jesus did describe himself as a mother hen watching over all of those little chicks. Jesus really is just trying to communicate, and the scriptures are trying to communicate to us that Jesus is one who cares about us, who is ready to lay down his life. A mother who loves her children without limit, without hesitation, willing to give her life for her children.

And I'm sure that many of us as we look back at our lives can appreciate how important our mothers have been for us. And the example, the model, that they are, really modeling Jesus, who laid down his life for his people.

I was reminded as I was thinking back on my own life of many examples my mother giving her life for her children. There were nine of us, so she had a lot of work. But one of the things that I remember and I've shared this with some of you before, was how on a Sunday morning my dad would take us to church and my mother would stay home and prepare the big breakfast that we used to have once a week. By the time she was all done with that work and we had finished breakfast and the dishes and so on, then she would head off to church. This was 12:30. Now remember that this was back in the days when people fasted from Saturday night, from all food and all drink including water. She would go that whole night and more than half the next day in order to serve us. That has left a deep impression on me and an example of a mother giving her life for her children. And I'm sure that all of us if we think back on our own lives we can think of extraordinary ways that our mothers have served us, given their lives for us.

We must think of that as what Jesus is. They are the models. Jesus himself is saying, "I am the one who cares for you." Mothers give us an example of what Jesus really means. We can go from understanding the love of our mothers for us to understanding maybe more deeply who Jesus is and how Jesus loves us, cares for us, gives his life for us. The Jesus who lives now in our midst.

And so we give thanks today for our mothers and for Jesus who taught all of us how to be totally generous in love.

But then there is also the challenge of course. Every time we reflect on the scriptures I think we discover that there is a challenge for us. And it's in a couple of ways in the scriptures today.

First of all, there is the image of that stone that was rejected and became the cornerstone. That is also an image of God's people. Those who listened to Luke's description of Jesus as the cornerstone would think immediately of the stone in the temple, the huge temple, the most prominent thing in their lives. But they had also begun to think of themselves as the temple of God; they had become to understand themselves as the stone that had been rejected but has become the cornerstone of a new people, a people living out the way of Jesus. And that's who we are. We are the completion of God's plan of a chosen people, rejected but now restored, living according to the way of Jesus. And so each one of us is challenged to be a part of this new people, built on the cornerstone who is Jesus. That means we must live like Jesus, act like Jesus, carry out the ways of Jesus.

The other way in which today's scriptures challenge us is in that short passage from the first letter of John. At the end of that passage we hear words that say we become like God as we come to know God.

The challenge for us is to get to know God better, the God who lives in our midst. As we know God better, more deeply, really come to see God in Jesus, then we become like God in Jesus. Then, as John tells us, we must reach out in love to one another.

This is the challenge: to live the way that Jesus did. Our mothers modeled it for us but all of us have to try to carry it out. To give that unlimited, unconditional love wherever we go, to anyone, to all people. As we try to live up to this challenge, come to know Jesus, who is alive and in our midst, we will be more like him, we will act like him. Do you know what will happen then? We will begin to change our world, transform it into the reign of God. Remember the Eucharistic prayer that I quoted at the beginning? The next part of it is "and one day Jesus will come again in the fullness of his glory. Then in his kingdom there will be no more suffering, no more tears, no more sadness." That is what will happen as we begin to know Jesus, live like Jesus, act like Jesus, love like Jesus. The reign of God will break forth in our midst.

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

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