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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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16th Sunday in Ordinary Time
July 20, 2003
This week's readings **

Jeremiah 23:1-6

"Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture!" declares the Lord. Therefore this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says to the shepherds who tend my people: "Because you have scattered my flock and driven them away and have not bestowed care on them, I will bestow punishment on you for the evil you have done," declares the LORD. "I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them and will bring them back to their pasture, where they will be fruitful and increase in number. I will place shepherds over them who will tend them, and they will no longer be afraid or terrified, nor will any be missing," declares the Lord. "The days are coming," declares the Lord, "when I will raise up to David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. This is the name by which he will be called: The Lord Our Righteousness.

Ephesians 2:13-18

In Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

Mark 6:30-34

The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, "Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest." So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place. But many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.

 * 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 first thing I want us to reflect on today is something that we could easily miss in the scriptures. In the gospel, Mark tells us how the disciples had gone off to preach and heal and minister to the sick. When they came back, Jesus invited them to go away and get some rest. However, people followed Jesus and the disciples to their place of solitude. When Jesus saw these people, he began to teach them. This is all preparation for what happens next in the gospel.

When Jesus saw this huge crowd in this deserted place, he felt compassion for them. So Jesus fed them. In this passage and the next, Mark gives the church of his day and us a model for our Sunday liturgy. Jesus taught the people; they listened and were nourished by God's word. Then he fed them, nourishing their bodies with bread. That is what happens every Sunday. Listening to God's word, we are nourished and strengthened, enlightened and challenged. Taking nourishment from the Eucharist, we are strengthened with the very body and blood of Jesus. We are, therefore, strengthened to live this life and to carry out this work.

I mention this because I hope it helps us to be more attentive when we hear the Sunday scriptures and then look to the Eucharist to strengthen that word within us. That's why we come to celebrate this liturgy every week: to be nourished with God's word and with the body and blood of Jesus.

And today's scriptures are, I think, extraordinary. Remember that at one point St. Paul wrote about God's word as a living word. He said that God's word is not something that was spoken in the past and now is over and done with. God is always speaking to us, speaking to us now through his word. Paul also said that God's word is a double-edged sword. It enlightens us, but it also challenges us. Sometimes we don't want to hear that word, because it is too much of a challenge. But it is God's living word.

If we listen carefully today to what Jeremiah says, we will be astounded: "Alas for the shepherds who mislead and scatter the sheep of my pasture." This is God speaking through Jeremiah. This is the message of God. "You have scattered my sheep and driven them away instead of caring for them. Now I will deal with you because of your evil deeds."

When Jeremiah speaks of "shepherds who have failed the people," we might think at first that he is referring to religious leaders, because shepherd is the symbolic language we have used to describe those who lead our church community, such as parish priests or bishops. We could easily hear God speaking words of harsh judgment against this group, because there have been so many failures on the part of the shepherds within our church.

But if we study the scripture, we see that Jeremiah is not speaking about shepherds as religious leaders. The Hebrew word Jeremiah uses is the word for "to rule." "To rule" and "to shepherd" is the same word, so Jeremiah was speaking to the rulers of the people. He said that rulers are meant to be shepherds, nurturing the people, leading them with love, compassion and understanding. Instead of caring for the people, Jeremiah said, the rulers have failed because they mislead the people. They lied to them, and now the people are suffering. The people are scattered. The people are in exile.

What makes this so striking is that Jeremiah was speaking to leaders who had lied to their people, who had provoked a war with the nation to the north of them. Do you know what that nation was? It was Babylon where Nebuchadnezzar was a tyrant. Babylon is now the country of Iraq. Doesn't that seem extraordinary?

It is almost as though God is saying to us today, to the rulers of our nation: "You have misled the people." And we were misled. That's become very clear. We are coming to learn that we were misled about the chief reason cited for invading Iraq. We are learning that there was no justification for saying that weapons of mass destruction were imminently ready to be used. That was a lie.

What I find even worse, this morning there is a report from the Pentagon that says throughout 2002, we were bombing Iraq deliberately to prepare for the invasion. According to the report, we regularly bombed positions in Iraq in the so-called "no fly zones" throughout 2002. At the time, the public was told that the bombing targeted only positions where we detected radar focusing on our planes. Now we learn from the Pentagon that we were in fact deliberately destroying communications systems, the command and control systems of the Iraqi government. We were preparing for war.

We have been misled and lied to, and now we are at war. We have to ask ourselves what will happen as this war drags on and on, as we use our resources in extraordinary amounts. The consequences for the people of Iraq, first of all, are devastating. They have suffered through 13 years of economic sanctions, and it continues.

To learn what will happen to us as this war drags on, we need only listen to Jeremiah: "This is the message of God to the shepherds of my people. You have scattered my sheep instead of caring for them. Now I will deal with you because of your evil deeds." That's a message that should take us aback, perhaps even frighten us somewhat. God's judgment is ready to be made against us.

Yet, at the same time, Jeremiah gave hope. He went on to say: "Yahweh speaks, the day is coming when I will raise up to David a righteous offspring, a king who will rule wisely and govern with justice, righteousness and love. Then Judah will enjoy peace and Israel will live in safety." With a righteous ruler, Jeremiah said, Judah, Israel, God's people will enjoy peace.

The promise that Jeremiah makes has been fulfilled. "I will raise up to David a righteous offspring." That righteous offspring is Jesus, the one who is to come, who would rule wisely and govern with justice, righteousness and love.

Looking at the gospel lesson today, it is clear that Jesus came as one who brings love, justice and righteousness. He saw that crowd following him and his disciples into the isolated place and immediately his heart was filled with compassion. Every instinct in Jesus is to reach out, to heal, to make whole, to share love, to bring goodness. He has compassion; he enters into the feelings and experiences of others and makes them his own so that he can lift people up and heal them. Jesus shows us that the way to bring peace is the way of love. Not a way of violence, not a way of hatred, not a way of war, but a way of love.

Turning to the letter of Paul today, we find an extraordinary example of how that works. Paul is talking about two communities that were hostile to one another, the Jews and the Gentiles. They hated one another. A barrier of hostility, Paul said, stood between them. Yet because of God's being revealed to us in Jesus as love -- as we say in our Eucharist prayer -- "Jesus opened our eyes and our hearts to understand that we are brothers and sisters, sons and daughters of the one God who is the God of all."

That is what the message of Jesus makes clear, and that is what Paul says happened in Ephesus. Those who hated one another came to love one another. The barrier of hostility was broken down, because they understood that God is love and God calls us to love one another. We can breakdown any barrier, any hostility, any hatred by reaching out in love.

Jesus, the righteous one, the offspring of David, shows us how we must respond in every situation. In our interactions with one another, we reach out with compassion, caring and love. As a people, rather than resorting to war, we reach out in love and goodness, breaking down barriers of hostility and hatred.

The challenges we hear in the scriptures today are not just challenges to the rulers of our nation. The challenges are to every one of us. Remember last week when we reflected on Jesus sending out the disciples? We said the message of that lesson was that Jesus sends our whole church, the whole community and all followers, to proclaim God's word and to share God's love. It is a call for every one of us to be prophetic. The same is true in today's lesson. We are called to be a prophetic community of disciples of Jesus, which means we reject hatred and violence to follow the way of love.

In his time, Jeremiah promised God's people, "Then you will enjoy peace; you will live in safety. God's name will be 'God our justice, our peace.'" The same thing can happen right now if we become the prophetic church that we are called to be.

Denounce what is wrong in our country. Denounce the misleading and the lies. Denounce the violence and the wars, and follow the way of Jesus. In that way, we can help to bring peace to our lives, peace to our nation and peace to the world.

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

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