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|The Peace Pulpit: Homiles by Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton|
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When Saul arrived in Jerusalem he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he was a disciple. Then Barnabas took charge of him and brought him to the apostles, and he reported to them how he had seen the Lord, and that he had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had spoken out boldly in the name of Jesus. He moved about freely with them in Jerusalem, and spoke out boldly in the name of the Lord. He also spoke and debated with the Hellenists,
but they tried to kill him. And when the brothers learned of this, they took him down to Caesarea and sent him on his way to Tarsus. The church throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria was at peace. It was being built up and walked in the fear of the Lord, and with the consolation of the Holy Spirit it grew in numbers.
1 John 3:18-24
Children, let us love not in word or speech but in deed and truth. Now this is how we shall know that we belong to the truth and reassure our hearts before him in whatever our hearts condemn, for God is greater than our hearts and knows everything. Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence in God and receive from him whatever we ask, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. And his commandment is this: we should believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another just as he commanded us. Those who keep his commandments remain in him, and he in them, and the way we know that he remains in us is from the Spirit he gave us.
Jesus said to his disciples: "I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower. He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit, and every one that does he prunes so that it bears more fruit. You are already pruned because of the word that I spoke to you. Remain in me, as I remain in you. Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing. Anyone who does not remain in me will be thrown out like a branch and wither; people will gather them and throw them into a fire and they will be burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you. By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples."
* 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.
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
** The Web link to Pax Christi is provided as a service to our readers.
Last week I suggested that the scripture readings are given to us, especially during the Easter season, to help us to continue to reflect on what it means that Jesus is alive, that Jesus has been raised from the dead and that the resurrection has happened. I also pointed out that one way to reflect on this is within the framework of words that we use in the eucharistic prayer when we proclaim to God, "Jesus now lives with you in glory but he is also here on earth among us." The next part of the prayer says, "and one day Jesus will come again in the fullness of his glory and then in his kingdom there will be no more suffering, no more tears, no more sadness."
That framework is still very suitable for today's readings, perhaps even more than last week's. Usually when we think about Jesus who lives with God in glory but is also here on earth among us, we think of those times when Jesus suddenly appeared to the disciples, as happened in the upper room on Easter Sunday night. They were all gathered together and suddenly he was there in their midst. That scene was very different from but somewhat like what the scene in the same room just a few nights before when they celebrated their last meal together. Jesus is there among them but separate from them.
Today in the gospel, we are reminded and urged to reflect in a deeper way that Jesus now lives among us. Jesus lives among us within our very own spirits. "I am the vine you are the branches." That's a marvelous image for what happens now since Jesus has been raised from the dead. We're joined intimately with Jesus. He's alive among us but also within us. Just as the branches cannot have life without the vine, so neither can we have life without Jesus. We're intimately joined and Jesus is alive and within us.
And if we can really grasp this truth, it's a life-changing truth, one that can transform us. We are reminded of that by what happened to St. Paul as adverted to in the first lesson today. We do not have the description of his conversion, but when he comes back to Jerusalem, the people are afraid of him. They don't know what happened to him, and Barnabas has to explain it. Remember what Paul has been through. He was probably the most notorious persecutor of the disciples of Jesus. He had watched over the cloaks of the ones who stoned Stephen, the first martyr. He had made it his life's work to try to stamp out what he saw as an aberration from the true Jewish faith.
Then as he is traveling to Damascus to arrest more people who are the followers of Jesus, he has an extraordinary experience, a very deep awareness that Jesus is alive. Paul has this experience of Jesus being with him and Jesus speaking and saying, "Saul, Saul why do you persecute me?" Jesus identifies himself with his disciples, and Paul comes to understand that. In the community of disciples, Jesus is alive within them, within each and within that whole community. As Paul came to understand that, it changed his whole life. Clearly, he no longer could persecute the Christians. He knew he had to follow Jesus. In that experience, Paul came to understand who Jesus really is. Jesus is the anointed one, the Christ, the Messiah that Paul and his people had been longing for, praying for. Jesus is that anointed one.
He also understood that Jesus is the new law, the Torah, that Paul cherished so much. He understood that Jesus is the ultimate word of God. He understood that Jesus identifies himself with all of those who are his followers. That changed Paul's life. He knew that now he had to spread this message. The community of disciples was to be the light to the nations that the chosen people had been called to be.
Paul immediately began to act differently. He went to proclaim the good news through out all the nations. He began to fulfill what Jesus had told his disciples, "You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in Judea and to the ends of the earth." Paul began to undertake that work.
What happened to Paul can also happen to us. It must happen to us. We, each of us, will undergo a profound conversion when we begin to realize that Jesus is alive within us.
Sometimes, people think that this means that Jesus is going to speak to them, to tell them what to do. You know, it does not really mean that. What happens, as we begin to realize that Jesus is alive within us, is that we nurture our awareness of Jesus being within us and we deepen our conformity to who Jesus is. Writing to the church in Philippi, Paul said, "Have this mind in you which was in Christ Jesus." That is what we must begin to do: to change our lives so that we have the mind, the attitude, the heart, the love of Jesus within us and that we become like Jesus was as he walked the earth. We change so that Jesus, who is living within us, begins to be revealed in us.
In the second lesson today, John makes so clear what that means by reminding us, "My dear children let us love not only with words and with our lips but in truth and in deed." That is what Jesus did. He loved in truth and in deed, reached out to every person.
John goes on to tell us, "His command is that we believe in the name of Jesus and that we love one another as God has commanded us." Love more than anything else is what must be reflected in our lives as we conform ourselves to the mind, the heart, the attitude, the way of Jesus.
As we begin to reflect on this, we recognize what a profound significance it has in our relationships to one another. Jesus lives in every one of us. It doesn't make any difference if you happen to be a cardinal, a bishop, a priest, a layperson, a man, a woman, rich or poor. Jesus is alive in every one of us. St. Paul made that very, very powerfully clear in writing to the Galatians when he said, "Among us there is neither Jew or Greek, slave or free, rich or poor, male or female. We are all one in Christ Jesus."
Think about what implications that has for our church, for the community in which we live. If we really are all alive with Christ within us, then there is full equality in freedom and dignity of every person within our community. As disciples of Jesus, who is alive in every one of us, all of us have the same rights. Jesus told his disciples when he was still living among them on earth, "Among the pagans, those who have authority, lord it over others, but among you it can't be that way. The one who is to be first, who is the leader, must be the servant of all." We must recognize the dignity within every other person; we don't lord it over anybody. All of us are equal in freedom and dignity, because each of us lives with that life of Jesus in our heart and in our spirit.
We can come to understand this truth when we see how Jesus spoke about it in the parable near the end of Matthew's gospel. The parable reveals the criterion God will use when he finally looks upon each of us. "Whatever you did to the least of my brothers and sisters you did to me." Jesus is alive in every person and whatever we do to anyone is what we do to Jesus.
That truth inspires us to want to reach out to those who are hungry. Why do we have a soup kitchen here, where every day we feed people who are in need? Because every one of them is Jesus. That is why we reach out to people in Haiti, our sister parish. We know that every person there, especially those who suffer so dramatically, everyone is Jesus.
That is why we deplore what happens in war.
I'll give you a very concrete example, something I read recently about all that bombing that went on in Iraq. We saw it on our televisions as high-tech bombing and never saw what happened on the ground, but I read about a youngster who's name is Ali Ismail Abbas, who is 12 years old. His home was hit with a missile. His mother was pregnant; she was killed along with the baby she was carrying. His father was killed, and his siblings were killed. He was badly burned, and both of his arms were ripped off above the elbow. So without arms, he is struggling to stay alive in the hospital. The story I read described him as weeping, of course, about his family. I'm sure he can't even cope with that. But he also weeps wondering how is he going to live without arms. He says, "If I can't get new arms, I will commit suicide." Such a tragic story, a 12-year-old boy.
If we really accepted the truth — "Whatever you do to the least of my brothers and sisters, you do to me" — we would weep over this tragic story. We would deplore that this ever happened, and we would try to make sure that it never happens again. Obviously that is what we have to do.
So this truth about Jesus — "I am the vine you are the branches" — is a very important truth for us to reflect upon and to make come alive within us. We are called upon to continuously nurture our awareness of the truth. We nourish that life of Jesus within us every time we receive holy Communion. The very body and blood of Jesus becomes our body and blood. Nurturing that truth, we try to change, We try to have the mind, the heart, and the attitude of Jesus. We nurture his life within us.
If we do that, we hasten the day when Jesus will return in the fullness of his glory, and in that final kingdom there will be no more tears, no more suffering, no more sadness. That's what can happen if we really live the truth that Jesus proclaims to us today.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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