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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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20th Sunday in Ordinary Time
August 17, 2003
This week's readings **

Proverbs 9:1-6

Wisdom has built her house. She has carved out her seven pillars. She has prepared her meat. She has mixed her wine. She has also set her table. She has sent out her maidens. She cries from the highest places of the city, "Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!" As for him who is void of understanding, she says to him, "Come, eat some of my bread, drink some of the wine which I have mixed! Leave your foolish ways, and live. Walk in the way of understanding."

Ephesians 5:15-20

Brothers and sisters, watch carefully how you live, not as unwise, but as wise; making the most of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore don't be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. Don't be drunken with wine, in which is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs; singing, and singing praises in your heart to the Lord; giving thanks always concerning all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to God, the Father.

John 6:51-58

Jesus said to the crowd, "I am the living bread which came down out of heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. Yes, the bread which I will give for the life of the world is my flesh." The Jews therefore contended with one another, saying, "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?" Jesus therefore said to them, "Most assuredly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life in yourselves. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father; so he who feeds on me, he will also live because of me. This is the bread which came down out of heaven-- not as our fathers ate the manna, and died. He who eats this bread will live forever."

 * 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.

Perhaps it’s appropriate to begin this morning by asking the question:  “What did you decide?  Are you going to join in that banquet that you have just been invited to, or not?  If you listened to what we heard from the Book of Proverbs, you have really been invited:  Wisdom has built her house set on seven pillars.  She has watered her beasts, prepared her wine and laid her table.  Next, she sent her servants to call from the central square of the city. You who are foolish, pass by here but to the senseless she says, ‘Come, eat and drink of the bread and wine I have prepared.  Give up your foolishness and you will live.’

That’s the invitation.  “Come. Eat. Drink. Live.”  That’s the wisdom of God.

A little further on in the Book of Proverbs, there’s another invitation.  We don’t hear it in today’s reading, but it is a clear contrast.  Lady Foolishness, impetuous, knows nothing.  She sits at the door of her house on a throne in the central square of the city to invite all passers-by:  “Come here, whoever is ignorant.”  To the foolish she says, “Stolen waters are sweet and comfort bread is the tastiest, but they do not see the shadow world lying there or realize that its guests are heading for the abyss of death.” 

So which invitation will we accept?  That of wisdom, who is God. Or foolishness, the way which so often of the world around us.

As we try to understand perhaps more clearly what Lady Wisdom is offering to us, we need to go a little further on in the Book of Wisdom and find where it is told to us that the beginning of Wisdom is reverence for God — or confidence in God, trust in God, faith in God, willingness to follow God’s ways.  The beginning of wisdom is that reverence, trust, confidence in God’s ways. 

At the time in which the Book of Wisdom was written for the chosen people who heard this message, the Wisdom of God was contained in the Torah—the law of God which had been given to them in that very extraordinary way on Mount Sinai when they first entered into Covenant with God and became God’s people, chosen to follow God’s ways.  The Torah was the way of wisdom and Lady Wisdom is inviting the people at that time to follow that way of God as it is put here:  “Take the straight path of discernment.  Look deeply into the ways of God and follow them.  Come to the table.  Eat of this Wisdom and be changed to follow God’s ways.”

And, of course, they would reject that way of foolishness, the shadow world, the world that is really not authentic.  We follow God’s ways in God’s world.

But there was not completeness in this wisdom of the Torah.  Over the millennia, the thousands and thousands of years of human development, God was being revealed only gradually to God’s people.  And at the point where we have the Torah, it is still an incomplete revelation.  The rewards that are presented and proclaimed when we follow this way of wisdom, as far as the people of that time could understand, was only a fullness of life on this earth.  They knew nothing about an everlasting life.  It was “shalom”, a fullness of life, of peace and happiness and completion on this earth alone. 

There were many other ways in which the Torah was incomplete, not only that its outcome was in this world only, but it was not a full development of all God wants us to be. 

In one commentary that I was reflecting on this week, the writer pointed out how in the Torah there was a total lack of understanding of the words of wisdom.  A woman was simply property under that law.  It sounds really strange to us, but it was true.  A man, a father, had complete ownership of his daughters and then passed that ownership on to her husband and women were simply property.  That, of course, was seen quickly as a clear lack of completeness in the Torah.  And so God, as revelation continues to happen, reveals more and more of what God’s wisdom is. 

And, of course, that’s where we come in today’s Gospel where Jesus says:  “Come to me.  Eat and drink of my Flesh and Blood.”  This is the real invitation we are given today—to come and eat at the table of Jesus who is God’s wisdom in its fullness…who shows us the way to not just live in this world, but as Jesus says so clearly, “Whoever eats my Flesh and drinks my Blood will live forever.

Again, the gift that Jesus offers, the way to that life, is the way of Wisdom.  But, now, the wisdom of God in its fullness as revealed in Jesus.

There are many ways we have to try to live out this wisdom of Jesus; follow his way.

Each of us, I’m sure, could think of our own particular examples of how I could be more faithful to the way of Jesus, live according to his wisdom.

Just yesterday I celebrated a funeral Mass for someone whom I’ve known for over 50 years—a woman from St. Alphonsus Parish, where I was when I was first ordained.  As I mentioned yesterday, I was reflecting on her life to the people who were gathered there, in her everyday life, in the way that she lived out just the ordinary life of wife and mother and one who was very active in her parish community.  She taught me much about the wisdom of God; the way she was always open to others, very hospitable, always sharing whatever she had.  And some of her children testified in a sense about how she cherished this world in which we live – the beauty of it, the marvel of this world.  This woman who in so many ways would just be unnoted, unknown by the world, lived according to the wisdom of God for almost 90 years.  She lived a full life and really manifested how, if we live according to God’s ways, the effect that has on others – a church filled with people who had learned from her, have profited from her, benefited from her, been loved by her. 

Anyone of us can discern how to live our everyday life according to the way of God and come to a fullness of life, even this life.  But then now we move on to the completion of that life with God forever in heaven. 

There are other ways in which we can try to discern what it really means to be wise right now in the world in which we live.  Some of these might not seem to be the ordinary thing that any one of us would do in everyday life but, they are important ways in which we try to bring the wisdom of God into the society in which we live. It is clear, I think, that the wisdom of God is really lacking in the world in which we live. 

This past week when the blackout happened, what was the first reaction of many, many people, perhaps of us – a terrorist attack?  And it could have been.  That could happen so easily.  But why does it come to our minds right away that it’s a terrorist attack.  Back in 1977 when it happened, we didn’t think that.  In 1965, when it happened, we didn’t think that.  This time we did. 

It’s because we have created a world where terror is matched by terror, where violence is matched by violence, where war is thought of as the way to bring peace--and it never does!  Clearly the so-called war on terrorism has not been won by using terror on other people. 

Perhaps one of the things we did learn from our blackout this week – is how cruel it is to destroy the electrical grid of a country.  Suppose that grid had been totally destroyed and we went on for weeks and weeks and weeks without light, without electricity, without our air-conditioning, without our refrigerators and so on.  But that’s what we did to Iraq back in 1991.  We deliberately bombed their whole electrical grid system and destroyed it and then kept it from being repaired.  So we imposed that kind of terror, violence on a whole nation.  And that’s why, it seems to me, we have to think right away when something happens to us like this blackout this week – someone is getting even with us.  Violence has begotten violence.  It’s not God’s way, is it?

Jesus tells us:  “I am the Way and the Truth and the Light.”  As we proclaim in our Eucharistic prayer, Jesus has revealed to us the fullness of life and he shows us the way to that life – the way of love and it’s the only way.  If we really accepted the invitation to come to his banquet table, where He gives us his Flesh and his Blood, his food and his drink, and we really let that change us, then we can begin to live according to his way of wisdom, which again is the way of love. 

As we reflect on what Jesus says in the Gospel and that He invites us to this banquet that even surpasses the banquet proclaimed in the Book of Proverbs—when we reflect on the fact that He says: “It really is My Flesh.  It is really my Blood.  It is really I.” 

And, as we receive Jesus into ourselves, it is important that we let Jesus change us.  Jesus doesn’t become present on our altar simply to be worshipped and adored.  Yes, we know it is the Real Presence, so we show reverence.  But Jesus expects us to be changed and to act according to his way.  If we are inclined to say “yes” to the invitation that we receive today from Lady Wisdom, if we are ready to accept the invitation, then we should come forward this morning to receive this Body and Blood of Jesus, ready to say, “Yes!  It is really Jesus.  I take it in as food and drink and let it transform me so then I can learn from Jesus how to be truly wise…how to live according to His Way…how to transform my own life and how to transform the world in which I live.”

Say “yes” to this banquet to which you are invited today, but say “yes” with a clarity of what you are saying yes to, making sure your yes includes letting yourself be changed so that you can live now, every day, according to the way of Jesus, which is the way of love and the wisdom of God, and to bring fullness of life for us not only here but forever.

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

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