The Peace Pulpit: Homiles by Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton
|Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time||July 10, 2005|
In light of what has happened during the past week, with the terrorist attack in London, I think that if we listen carefully to the scriptures, we'll find them very hopeful, very reassuring but also very challenging.
My first reaction when I heard early Thursday morning about the terrorist attack on London was to think about the words of Pope John Paul II, words that I have quoted here before from his Peace Day statement for Jan. 1, 2002, when he was reflecting on the terrorist attack against the United States on Sept. 11, 2001.
These words, I think, will be familiar to you. He said, "In a world in which the power of evil seems once again to have taken the upper hand" -- the power of evil seems to have taken the upper hand -- "how will it be transformed into a world in which the noblest aspirations of the human heart will triumph, a world in which true peace will prevail?"
Well, that's where the scripture passages today can give us a real sense of hopefulness, because each of them, in a very powerful way, proclaims that the word of God, the good news of the reign of God, will be fulfilled. Listen to Isaiah. He was proclaiming these words in a time when he and the chosen people where in exile. Their nation had been destroyed; everything was demolished, and even if they could be free of exile they were still hundreds of miles away from Jerusalem, their home city. And Jerusalem was in ruins. Everything was hopeless, except Isaiah knew the power of God's work. He described it: "The rain and the snow come down from the heavens and do not return until they have watered the earth, making it yield seed for the sower and food for others to eat. So is my word that goes forth out of my mouth. It will not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish my will, the purpose for which it has been sent." Isaiah has this profoundly strong hope and confidence because God has spoken.
St. Paul said somewhat the same thing when he talked about how the spirit is present in the world. Even as Paul spoke about the suffering of the present life, he said there is still hope: "But I consider that these sufferings cannot be compared with the glory that will be revealed and has already been given to us." He went on to speak about how the spirit is throughout all of creation, all of creation is groaning until it comes to that new birth, a fullness of life. St. Paul is confident that God's spirit is present and is changing, transforming our world into the reign of God.
Of course, Jesus too was preaching about the word; he used a parable. He talked about how the farmer, the sower, goes out to sow the seed and throws it everywhere. But that's the way they did it then. They just threw the seeds as far as they could throw it. Some landed -- as Jesus said in the parable -- some fell on the wayside and birds ate it. Others fell on rocky ground. Some fell on thin soil so it sprouted but then there were no roots and so it was burned by the sun and died. Other seeds fell among the weeds and the thistles got choked it as it grew up. But some fell on good ground, and that which fell on the good ground -- here's where Jesus tells about the same power of God's word that Isaiah was thinking about and Paul was speaking about -- Jesus said, "The seed that fell on the good ground, it will produce 100 fold or 60 fold or 30 fold." That must have surprised his listeners, because normally they would have expected seed to yield at the most seven fold. But Jesus said the word of God would produce fruit that is beyond our imagination. He's very confident that what God speaks will happen. This word of God will produce fruit that is way beyond what you and I can even imagine, but that's the way that parable would have struck those first people. They would have thought, "He's crazy. How could any seed produce that much?" But Jesus was talking about the word of God.
God's word has extraordinary power, and if we listen to this word and the scriptures that we hear today and pray about it, reflect on it, perhaps we'll get some of the same confidence, that same awareness that God has spoken, that God's word is not empty. It will bring about what God has spoken. We will have a sense of hope rather than a sense of deep discouragement and even despair.
But this word is also challenging. It gives us that spirit of hope, but it challenges us just as it did the people back then. Matthew's Gospel was written, put down in writing, maybe 50 years after Jesus had died and returned to heaven, so it was written in the midst of a community of disciples who were struggling to make happen what Jesus had proclaimed. And they had begun to wonder: "Jesus spoke so powerfully. He promised so much. Here we are being persecuted. The word of God isn't spreading as quickly as we had thought."
If you read the gospel a little bit after this parable, Matthew tells how the disciples came to Jesus with a question, "Why do you speak to them in parables?" Jesus answered, "In them the words of the prophet Isaiah are fulfilled and here's what the prophet said: 'Much as you hear, you do not understand. Much as you see, you still do not perceive, for the hearts of this people have grown dull. Their ears hardly hear and their eyes dare not see. If they were to see with their eyes, hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts they would turn back and it would heal them.' " The word would heal them.
Maybe that's our problem. Our ears are dull. We're not listening deeply enough to what Jesus tells us. The reign of God hasn't seemingly come much closer to fulfillment maybe because we're not listening.
Matthew's Gospel gives an explanation of the parable: Some of us are like the seed that fell outside the good soil, in the footpath, it did not take root. The seed that fell on rocky ground stands for those who hear the word, accept it at once with joy but then are fickle and have no roots. We hear the word but we let it go. We don't let it change us. The seed that fell among the thistles is like the person who hears the word and then the worries of life and the love of money choke the word and it does not bear fruit.
The parable makes all of us ask where we are: Am I the seed that fell along the path? The seed that fell on the rocky ground? The seed that got choked by the thistles, the weeds? Or the seed that fell on the good ground where it can take root, grow, change us and then enable us to help change this world?
As I reflected on the words of Pope John Paul this past week, I had to wonder how this world where evil seems to have the upper hand will be transformed so that the noblest aspirations of the human heart will triumph, so that peace will prevail throughout the world. I couldn't help but think that the problem is we're not listening to God's word.
What was the reaction last week when a terrorist attack happened again? For the most part it was pretty much the same as it was before. Pay back. Get even. We'll continue to war against them until we finally destroy them. We're committed to meeting a violent situation with violence, instead of listening to God's word that says violence will not bring peace; only the transforming power of love will bring peace. We're not listening to God. We're falling back into old patterns. We've failed to even look at ourselves and what we're doing.
A couple of times this week I heard in interviews from Baghdad, Iraqi people speaking. They weren't speaking with hate or even anger, but they said, perhaps the people of London now know what our lives are like. The U.S. military has been bombing them, destroying them, since 1991. Do we ever stop to think of what kind of terror that is? Everyone in Fallujah, a city of 250,000 people, must leave their homes and the city is demolished. We don't even think about that. Also this past week when those Navy Seals were lost. They call for an air strike. An airplane flying at 35,000 feet drops a 500 pound bomb. It hit a village! What kind of terrorism is that? That's how we respond. And it's only going to bring more violence, more terrorism, more killing, more war. We have to begin to listen to Jesus.
The Group of 8 met last week. The eight richest nations is the world. Have you read what they decided? Not really much for the benefit of all the people of the earth. The United States wasn't even willing to sign an accord to try to lessen the damage we're doing to the environment through human activity that's bringing a warming of the whole planet that eventually will destroy us. No, that would hurt our economy, the president said. It's selfishness, greed. Isn't that what Jesus says. The word falls in that kind of ground and it gets choked. We don't listen.
I'm confident that what Isaiah said, what Paul said, what Jesus said, it's true! God has sent the word among us and that word tells us how to change this world so that it will not be a place where evil has the upper hand. That it will change it so that it will be a world of peace, true peace will prevail. That will only happen, however, when you and I truly listen to this word of God and then act upon it.
In the name of the father and of the son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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