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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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17th Sunday in Ordinary Time
July 27, 2003
This week's readings **

2 Kings 4:42-44

A man came from Baal-shalishah bringing to Elisha, the man of God, twenty barley loaves made from the firstfruits, and fresh grain in the ear. Elisha said, "Give it to the people to eat." But his servant objected, "How can I set this before a hundred people?" Elisha insisted, "Give it to the people to eat." "For thus says the Lord, ‘They shall eat and there shall be some left over.'" And when they had eaten, there was some left over, as the Lord had said.

Ephesians 4:1-6

Brothers and sisters: I, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through love, striving to preserve the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace: one body and one Spirit, as you were also called to the one hope of your call; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

John 6:1-15

Jesus went across the Sea of Galilee. A large crowd followed him, because they saw the signs he was performing on the sick. Jesus went up on the mountain, and there he sat down with his disciples. The Jewish feast of Passover was near. When Jesus raised his eyes and saw that a large crowd was coming to him, he said to Philip, "Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?" He said this to test him, because he himself knew what he was going to do. Philip answered him, "Two hundred days' wages worth of food would not be enough for each of them to have a little." One of his disciples, Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, said to him, "There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish; but what good are these for so many?" Jesus said, "Have the people recline." Now there was a great deal of grass in that place. So the men reclined, about five thousand in number. Then Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed them to those who were reclining, and also as much of the fish as they wanted. When they had had their fill, he said to his disciples, "Gather the fragments left over, so that nothing will be wasted." So they collected them, and filled twelve wicker baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves that had been more than they could eat. When the people saw the sign he had done, they said, "This is truly the Prophet, the one who is to come into the world." Since Jesus knew that they were going to come and carry him off to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain alone.

 * 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.

You may not have noticed but we have been reading the Gospel of Mark. This Sunday we switched to the Gospel of John. I was thinking to myself, maybe there's a clue here for me, because in Mark's Gospel, just before he describes the miracle we heard about today, he wrote: "And Jesus began a long teaching session with them." I was wondering if that meant I should have a long teaching session on this hot Sunday morning! Well, I probably won't go too long, but it will be long enough, I hope, because the Word today is so important we can't let it go by.

We know that the miracle we hear about today is one of the important events in the life of Jesus, because it is one of the few incidents or miracles that is recorded in all four of the Gospels. In fact, in Matthew's Gospel and in Mark's Gospel, there are two different accounts of this same event. When the first disciples were putting the Gospels together, they must have understood that there was something very important about this incident. We can understand its importance if we probe deeply into the way it is written, especially in the account in John's Gospel.

The disciples who put the gospels together weren't really concerned with recording exactly what happened that day; that is why when you look at these six accounts, you find lots of discrepancies. One Gospel writer will say it happened this way, another will say it happened another way, so you don't really have an historical accounting of what took place. But that kind of record is not what we're interested in. The gospel writers were not trying to write a biography of Jesus, trying to record everything he said, everything he did and so on. The gospel writers wanted us to get a message out of the events they described. They wanted to say something about who Jesus is, not so much about what he did. After they talked about who Jesus is, then they talked about what he called his followers to do.

When we look in John's Gospel, the account we have this morning, we notice that John places Jesus up on the mountainside. This is different than the other Gospels. This setting would be significant for the first readers of the Gospel, because they would have know that God spoke to Moses on the mountain called Mont Sinai and that Moses was the leader of the chosen people; he freed them from slavery in Egypt and took them into the promised land. John is giving us a hint that Jesus is the new Moses, the one who is to free us, to take us into the fullness of life.

John puts another clue into his account that the other writers did not include. John wants his readers to know that these events happened at Passover time. Passover is the most important event in the history of the chosen people; it is when they were freed from Egypt and began their long journey to freedom into the Holy Land. So, again, John wants us to think of Jesus as the new Moses, leading us from slavery into freedom. He also wants us to recall the last Passover in the life of Jesus. When Jesus celebrated for the last time with his closest friends, he gave them his body and blood to be with them for all time. John is asking us to be aware of that.

John is the only gospel writer who mentions the boy with the barley loaves. That reminds readers of the prophet Elisha feeding the 100 people with 20 barley loaves. With this, John tells us what kind of prophet Jesus is. He surpasses every prophet in all history. Elisha could take 20 loaves of bread and feed a 100 people. Jesus has five loaves of bread and feeds more than 5,000 people. Jesus, then, is the prophet who is beyond all prophets. He is the one who is to come, the promised one. That is what John is trying to help us understand.

That is also the last point in this gospel story. He says the people recognized Jesus as the prophet who was to come, the one they had been waiting for. We too must recognize that Jesus is this one who is to come; the one promised for thousands of years. Jesus is the one who proclaims the good news of God's reign, as he did when he began his public life, that God is transforming and changing our world into a place where everyone will have enough to eat.

Now here is a very important point. Those people recognized Jesus as the prophet, the one who is to come -- but then they wanted to make him king. What do you suppose they were hoping for? If he were the king, what would happen? He would take care of all their needs. That is what they were looking for; someone who would do everything for all of them.

But Jesus hid himself. Why? Because he was calling a community of disciples who were to be the ones to make things happen. The community of disciple were to be the ones to transform our world into the reign of God where everyone would have enough of all the good things God has given for all.

Paul writing from prison -- he had been so faithful to Jesus that he was in jail -- makes a similar invitation to discipleship. He wrote: "I invite you to live the vocation you have received." So the message for today is that each one of us must live the vocation we have received. If we put that in terms of feeding people, for example, one of the things that should happen is that we should have a world where everyone has enough to eat. But we don't, do we? Maybe you and I are being asked to do something about that -- to make the reign of God happen.

Jesus shows us the way but now it is up to us. He shows us what should happen. The rest is up to us.

As I thought about different ways in which this Gospel has been and can be implemented, I got to thinking about is that little boy. He had just five barley loaves and two fish, but he was ready to hand them all over. He gave everything that he had, and then suddenly everybody has enough.

About 25 or 30 years ago, a few people from this parish … Mrs. Barnes, Mrs. Jones, Mrs. Baxter … began to serve sandwiches to people out of a small abandoned bar on Grand River Avenue. They started by feeding 15 or 20 people, but those numbers grew. Now we serve hundreds every day. It started with the inspiration of those few people giving what they had so other people could eat. It gets larger and larger. The first half of this year we served 6,000 more meals than we served last year. But it all started because a few people did a little bit, just what they could do. That should inspire all of us to do what each of us can do. Who knows what will happen? The good work will spread. Others will pick it up and do it.

But it isn't only handing over food to people, as important as that is. We also have to change things in our world. You know, it isn't an accident that one-fifth of the world has 87% of the world's wealth and that the poorest one-fifth have only 1.7%. It is not an accident. In fact, just two Sundays ago, there was an extraordinary editorial in The New York Times I kept it, because I found it so enlightening. It starts off this way:

Put simply, the Philippines got taken. [People in the Philippines got cheated.] A charter member of the World Trade Organization in 1995, the former American colony dutifully embraced globalization's free market gospel over the last decade, opening its economy to foreign trade and investment despite widespread worries about their abilities to compete. The Philippines bought the theory that their farmers' lack of good transportation and high technology would be balanced out by their cheap labor. The government predicted that access to world markets would create a net gain of a half billion farming jobs a year and improve the country's trade balance.

It didn't happen. And here's why [and this is what has to change]: Small-scale farmers across the Philippines have discovered that their competitors [this is supposed to be free markets and open trade] in places like the United States and Europe do not simply have better seeds, fertilizers and equipment. Their products are also protected by high tariffs or underwritten by massive farm subsidies that make them artificially cheap."

We grow this vast amount of food and we subsidize our farmers with billions of dollars so they can sell their produce on the world market cheaper than the cheap labor in the Philippines. So we pushed them out of the market.

No matter how small a wage Filipino workers are willing to accept, they cannot compete with agri-business afloat on billions of dollars in government welfare. "Farmers in the United States get help every step of the way," says Rudivico Mamac, a very typical and a very poor Filipino sharecropper whose 12-year-old son is embarrassed because his family cannot afford to buy him a ballpoint pen or notebooks for school.

That is a structural injustice. We have talked about this before. It is the kind of thing that has to change, and you and I have to do something about it.

Yes, Jesus was the prophet who came to proclaim God's kingdom is at hand, but he also calls us to change things so that the kingdom can break forth, so that there will be justice for everyone. We have work to do. Not only to share the food that we have in such abundance and give it to others and feed people every day. We also have to change our government policies that are cheating people in other parts of the world.

That's only one example. There are so many others. I will mention one other. Twice this week I heard Mr. Paul Bremmer, the US administrator in Iraq, speak. Both times he said things were terrible in Iraq because of the country was mismanaged for 35 years. That is not true. In 1990, Iraq was a prosperous country. Yes, the country was run by a dictator who did terrible things, and it needed to change, but Iraq was a prosperous country.

What destroyed them was the bombing in 1991. We totally destroyed the infrastructure of the country, made it unable to function. Then twelve and a half years of sanctions made it impossible for them to rebuild. They could not get their economy going again.

So yes, people are starving there; they don't have adequate water, and they can't get health care. The place is a disaster. But it wasn't because of 35 years of mismanagement. It was because of bombing and sanctions. Now we are occupying the country. What should we do? It seems to me, if we really were concerned about the Iraqi people, we wouldn't be paying $3.9 billion a month for military occupation. That's what we are paying -- almost $4 billion a month -- to occupy that country and keep it under our control.

The United Nations estimates that to rebuild Iraq so people can live decently, it would take between $10 billion and $20 billion over three to five years. If we did that -- brought in help to rebuild their sewage treatment plants, their water purification systems, their roads and their communication systems -- we would be really helping the people, and it would be less expensive than what we are spending right now -- almost $4 billion a month -- for military occupation, which is not so far bringing peace to the country.

We could change the direction, if enough of us in this country really cared about the people in Iraq, if enough of us really took seriously what Jesus asks of us -- "to make the reign of God happen." He didn't come among us to be a king, to do it all for us. He told us to be a community of disciples who would do the work of transforming our world.

So with St. Paul, who said it so plainly and so clearly, I plead with you: "Therefore, I, a prisoner of Jesus, invite you to live the vocation you have received." When all of us live that vocation then what happened on that hillside in Galilee so long ago will happen for our whole world. Everyone will have enough. We will have a world at peace. We will have a world where people respect one other and love one another.

"Live the vocation that you have received."

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

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