The Peace Pulpit: Homiles by Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton
|Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time||July 31, 2005|
With St. Paul today, I invite everyone to ask, "Who can separate us from the love of God shown to us in Jesus?" Who can separate us from that love of God or what can separate us? Can anything? Paul is filled with an overwhelming sense of how much God loves him. And because he has that experience of God's love for him it changes his whole life and the way that he acts towards others. Today if we listen very deeply and carefully to the scriptures and pray over them, we too can experience the same extraordinary sense of how much God loves us.
If you go back into the preceding chapters of this part of the letter to the Romans, when St. Paul is talking about the love of God, he means how God loves us not how we love God. And it's a kind of a love that we haven't earned. Back at the beginning of the passage in Chapter 5, Paul speaks about how the love of God "is poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us." The love of God is poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. Freely given. Paul reminds us that God loves us not because we are good or because we have earned it. In fact, Paul says, "God loved us in Jesus when we were sinners." Nothing can prevent God from loving us. That's the message that Paul began to experience, and it's the message that each one of us needs to experience, to come to know deeply within ourselves. "God loves me." That's without limit and without condition. And Paul says in conclusion, "Not any creature whatsoever can separate us from the love of God which we have in Jesus Christ." Nothing can separate us from the love of God that we have in Jesus.
Paul had come to that experience, partly because Paul knew those scriptures of the chosen people so well. A passage like the first lesson we heard today would have been a passage that Paul knew: Isaiah assures the people, even in the midst of their suffering, "Come all you who are thirsty. Come to the water. All who have no money come. You don't have to earn it, just come. Come to God, and God will give you drink. God will give you food." And it's more than material drink or material food. It's a deep relationship with God, because as Isaiah says, "Incline your ear. Come to me. Listen."
God wants to enter into relationships with us. "Incline your ear. Come to me and listen. Listen that your soul may live and I will make with you an everlasting covenant." God establishes a relationship with us that's everlasting and that can never be broken. "I will fulfill in you all my promises." Paul knew that passage and we have to come to know it, to come to know that God is always there ready to nourish us, to strengthen us, to give us life if we listen, if we're ready to enter into a relationship with God.
And of course it's revealed so clearly in Jesus. That's what Paul says. "The love of God is revealed to us in Christ, Jesus." Today's Gospel lesson is an extraordinary example of that. The Gospel story today comes at a very difficult moment in the life of Jesus. As I mentioned before the Gospel reading, John the Baptist, who was very close to Jesus, one who Jesus loved, had just been executed by Herod. Jesus had to have been devastated by that. He went away; he wanted to be apart in a secluded place to grieve. But as we heard in the Gospel lesson, the people saw him leave in the boat so they walked around the shore, and they were there when he landed. Jesus immediately let his heart go out to them. Matthew tells us he was filled with compassion for the people who hungered like sheep without a shepherd. Jesus' love is immediate and he's very clear, explicit.
Matthew takes care to let us see how this love of Jesus is really a reflection of God's love for the people down through all the centuries. Matthew describes -- and his Jewish-Christian community would have recognized this quickly -- that they were in a desert place. What happened in the desert? Moses fed the people with manna, and Matthew is suggesting someone here is greater than Moses and the love demonstrated here will be greater than that God showed through Moses. There is a clue as to how extraordinary the love of Jesus is. From the kind of a miracle that Jesus worked, those Jewish Christians would have remembered right away the passage from the Book of Kings where Elisha, one of the prophets, fed 100 people with 20 loaves. Here is Jesus, someone far surpassing the love Elisha had for the people, Jesus feeds a multitude, thousands of people.
All of this is to show how God's love, especially as revealed in Jesus, never can be taken away from us. If we can begin to experience that, to know that, to listen deeply and know "God loves me" it will change our actions, change the way we live, and what we do, how we carry out our everyday life.
Certainly it changed Paul. He couldn't stop going about preaching the Good News. He had to go everywhere that he could possibly go to let people know about the love of God that's revealed in Jesus. The disciples there in the desert, they were so hesitant. They were going to send everybody away until Jesus lets them realize that he was here to show love and that that love could be shown through them once they begin to let go of their hesitation, of their reluctance. They experienced the love of Jesus when they go among the crowd and they share that love. They distribute the five loaves and the fish after Jesus has blessed them. Everyone is fed. The love of God goes with those disciples into that crowd and changes the crowd into a joyful celebrating crowd of people.
Once we get to know the love of God, experience it deeply within our own lives, we too I hope, and I know this is possible, can begin to say, "I have to spread this good news about God's love. And we have to do it in our everyday life, spread the good news by sharing our resources, our blessings with our neighborhood. In the larger world, this miracle of Jesus had a very particular resonance today when you realize that the vast majority of the people in the world are hungry and if the love of God really compelled us, we couldn't stop from trying to do something.
I just read about the country of Niger, one of the countries of Africa, 25 percent of the children there die from hunger! In a world where there's more than enough for everybody, but we don't reach out in love. Our love is too limited. It's partly because we don't know how much we are loved by God! If we let ourselves know what God has done within us, the blessings that flow from God to us, how rich we are in God's blessings and God's love, we would never hesitate. We would be reaching out with all the possible capacities that can bring forth to do it.
The other side of this, the reverse of it is, if we don't love, if we don't experience God's love or if we don't try to share that love, hatred and violence will permeate our world. When I was reflecting on this aspect of today's lesson, I thought of what happens when the love of God isn't pushing us. I thought about the terrorists. You know the religion of Islam is a religion that really teaches about God who is love. There are many misunderstandings. I've heard people say the Koran teaches nothing but hatred. That's not true. The radical teaching of Islam is that God loves us, God is love. But those terrorists, even when you see their pictures and the kind of actions that they do, they don't seem to be people filled with love. They're people filled with hate. And so they will do terrible things. Fly airplanes into buildings filled with people or explode bombs on subway trains or on buses.
But even as we think about that, it's also important for us to think about what we have done. I just read some remarks of Prime Minister Tony Blair who was asked about the difference between now and what was happening in England when the Irish Revolutionary Army was exploding bombs in various parts of London and various parts of England. He said the difference with this terrorism, what just happened there in the last couple of weeks, the difference is, "the combination of modern technology and the willingness to kill without limit." I think that's true, that there is a difference. It's the combination of modern technology and the willingness to kill without limit, but then as I thought about that I immediately thought about the anniversary that will take place this coming Saturday, Aug. 6,, the 60th Anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima. You have the very same thing, a combination of modern technology and a willingness to kill without limit.
In the modern era I think that was the first and most extraordinary act of terrorism that has happened in human history. We have that combination of technology. It took genius to develop those bombs, but also a willingness to kill without limit. One bomb exploding over Hiroshima killed 100,000 people, and they were ordinary people riding buses or streetcars to work. They were children walking to school. They were people in their homes having breakfast when that bomb exploded. Tens of thousands of people were left to die over the years from radiation sickness. Is that not an act of terrorism? The very kind of what Mr. Blair says is the "modern" kind of terrorism began 60 years ago, and it began because we were not filled with an awareness of God's love for us and our need to reach out in love to our brothers and sisters.
The terrible thing is that that kind of terrorism goes on perpetrated by us. I just read an article about a city in Iraq, Fallujah. 250,000 people. We bombarded that city with missiles and bombs. All the people were driven out. Homes were leveled. Shops were destroyed. Schools were destroyed. Hospitals were destroyed. An act of terrorism. Modern technology and a willingness to kill without limit.
Our only hope, I believe, for us to move beyond that kind of terrorism is to know deeply God's love for us, experience very deeply what God tells us, that the love of God is poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit. If we can know that love, listen to God as Isaiah pleads with us, listen to God and enter into relationship with God who is making this covenant of love with us and let our hearts be transformed by God's love, then we would extend that love into our world. We would reject all acts of war and terrorism. We would reach out into God's world, into our neighborhood, into the countries of Africa, the Middle-East, anywhere but not as bearers of arms, weapons and mass destruction, but as messengers of peace -- those who know and proclaim that God loves us and that God's love is what will bring peace into our world as we spread that love wherever we go.
In the name of the father and of the son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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