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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.
  Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time June 24, 2004

This week's readings **
Zechariah 12:10-11, 13:1
"I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and of supplication, so that they will look on Me whom they have pierced; and they will mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only son, and they will weep bitterly over Him like the bitter weeping over a firstborn. In that day there will be great mourning in Jerusalem, like the mourning of Hadadrimmon in the plain of Megiddo. In that day a fountain will be opened for the house of David and for the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for sin and for impurity."

Galatians 3:26-29
For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's descendants, heirs according to promise.

Luke 9:18-24
And it happened that while He was praying alone, the disciples were with Him, and He questioned them, saying, "Who do the people say that I am?" They answered and said, "John the Baptist, and others say Elijah; but others, that one of the prophets of old has risen again." And He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" And Peter answered and said, "The Christ of God." But He warned them and instructed them not to tell this to anyone, saying, "The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed and be raised up on the third day." And He was saying to them all, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it."

* 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 word of God is a living word. God is present in the world right now. So the question that Jesus asks in today's gospel is not just a question that was asked 2,000 years ago. The question is asked right now of me, of you, of each of us: Who do you say Jesus is?

Take a moment. Who do you say Jesus is?

It's a question that has profound implications. We could answer like those disciples who said, "You are one of the prophets. You are like Elijah. You are John the Baptist come back to life." And if that were the case, that would be quite significant, and we would probably have great admiration for Jesus as a great prophet, just as we have admiration for people who are prophets among us, like Martin Luther King Jr., Oscar Romero, or so many of those whom we think about as truly prophets in our time. We admire them.

But if your answer is "Jesus is the Christ, the son of the living God," then your response must be more than admiration, because the next thing Jesus said is "You must follow me. Take up your cross and follow me."

It really does make a difference if he is the son of God. If we believe that then we must take up our cross and follow him. That might mean some dramatic changes in our lives, which we might be hesitant to do, but this is the son of God. We're going to follow him.

The image that he uses when he says, "Take up your cross," was an image that the people who heard him would have known well and clearly understood its ultimate implications. Jesus' audience would have been very familiar with the vertical beam that was permanently on the hillside just outside of the western gate of Jerusalem. When people were executed, they walked to that beam through the streets of Jerusalem carrying a crossbeam from which they would be hung by ropes or nails - crucified - until they died. All the while they would be on public display to be spit upon and jeered.

Jesus' audience knew what it meant "to carry your cross" in a very realistic way.

Now what that might mean for us, probably in it's most difficult form, is to try to do what Jesus did when he carried his cross and was executed. In midst of that violence and hatred, Jesus brought love and forgiveness to transform the hatred and violence. If we are going to follow Jesus, that's what we have to try to do. We have to against cultural norms that are against the values of Jesus, and we have to open ourselves to being jeered, criticized or mocked sometimes. But most of all we have to bring into situations of violence or hatred active love.

I can think of two very current situations where the tendency would be to bring hatred and violence into a situation of hatred and violence. Think of Paul Johnson, the civilian helicopter technician beheaded by Al-Qaida militants in Saudi. I read today that some people put up a sign outside Johnson's family home that describes the hatred they feel for those who did this cruel thing. And it was a cruel, vicious act made worse by making a display of it. But somehow into that violence and that hatred -- and I know that it has to be very difficult, and I wouldn't begin to try to speak for the Johnson family in any way, but I ask each of us here to think about this question -- could I respond with love and bring love into that situation? Obviously it would be very, very difficult. It would take, maybe, a long time to try to bring myself to that point, but I think in this situation Jesus would say: "If you want to follow me, that's the kind of thing you have to try to do."

The second situation that I think of, which has connections with the killing of Paul Johnson, is the bombing that took place yesterday (June 19) in Fallujah, a city 35 miles from Baghdad. We flew airplanes over that city and dropped 2,000-pound bombs because we wanted to destroy a house that our intelligence said -- reliable intelligence we were told -- was occupied by insurgents. We not only destroyed one house, we destroyed four houses. Reduced them to rubble. We killed people. Seventeen people. Bodies ripped apart. Killed little children. That is extreme violence and hatred.

I can't speak for the people of Fallujah, but I can try to imagine us here in such a situation. How would we react? Could we react with the love of Jesus? If I'm going to follow him that's what I must try to do. I pray that the people in those situations instead of reciprocating with further violence and further hatred will try and respond with love. It's the only way we're ever going to stop the violence and the hatred.

Jesus is the son of God. If we answer his question "Who do you say I am?" with "You are the son of God" then he will challenge us: "Then follow me. Try to do as I did. In the midst of hatred and violence respond with love."

In a way that, perhaps, touches our lives more directly St. Paul suggests what we must do if we say we follow Jesus. He wrote to the Galatians, who had been very committed to the 613 laws of the Torah, to tell them "You're free from that. You're baptized into Jesus. You're now sons and daughters of God. Your responsibility is not simply to 613 human laws that somehow you think by measuring how well you fulfill them you can determine whether you're being saved or not. You must be clothed in Christ Jesus." Paul told them to "take on Jesus" as he put it to his letter to the Philippians, "Have this mind in you, which was in Christ Jesus." Begin to think and act like Jesus in your everyday life. Take up your cross daily. In your everyday life put on Jesus.

One of the things that would happen if we put on Jesus is that we would have profound respect for every person and the value of every human person. I read in the paper this morning an article about women trying to make a very difficult choice. Carrying a baby and knowing the baby has a defect, Down's Syndrome or something, some chose to kill that human being. Can you imagine Jesus not cherishing and loving a baby with Down's Syndrome? Any baby? Any human being?

I think we have an example among us of people doing what Jesus wants of us to do. I'm thinking of Sr. Carla and Sr. Mary Anne and the tiny babies they bring to church every week. They serve as foster parents, and they take in these children and care for them. That's having the mind, the attitude, the way of Jesus. Any parent loving and caring for their child, respecting and cherishing, that's the mind and the attitude of Jesus. As Paul wrote in today's lesson, "When we begin to put on Jesus, we break down all the barriers. There's no longer Jews or Greeks, slave or free, male or female, rich or poor." If we're going to put on Jesus -- and this will mean taking up our crosses and following him -- we have to keep on breaking down those barriers.

According to scholars, it took a few decades for the church to make progress in breaking down the barriers between Jewish Christians and the Gentile Christians by finally eliminating the requirement that followers of Jesus had to become Jews. It took the church a few decades to resolve that issue. It took 1,800 years for the church to stop approving of slavery; 1,800 years before we really began to live according to the way of Jesus. For 1,800 years, we weren't clear in our teaching, finally we are.

When it comes to male or female, we still haven't totally broken down those barriers. We have discrimination within our church. Women are kept in a second-class position. That's wrong. If we take up our cross and follow Jesus, we will work to bring about change, to make full equality happen within our church and within our society between men and women. It won't be easy. It will take effort, sacrifice and love to put on Jesus, but that is what Jesus calls us to.

The same thing is true of rich and poor. We haven't really achieved the situation that was present in the early church, where no one among them was in need because they shared all they had. Taking up your cross, following Jesus means sharing generously.

As we continue to reflect on today's scriptures I hope we will hear Jesus asking us, each of us individually, in the depth of each of our hearts: "Who do you say I am?" And I hope that we can all say with great confidence, "You are the Christ, the anointed, the son of God."

And I also hope and pray -- for myself and for all of us -- that we will accept his challenge. That we will take up our crosses, take up his cross, follow him, be clothed fully with him. That we will bring love into situations of hatred and violence. That we will break down all barriers so that we have a community of people, sons and daughters of God, who are totally equal in freedom and dignity. That we will truly reflect the way of Jesus in everything we do and all that we are.

Say, "Yes, you are the Christ, the son of the living God, and I will follow you."

In the name of the Father and of the son and of the holy spirit. Amen.

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