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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. NOTE: The homilies are available here five days after they are given, always on Friday.
  Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time August 22, 2004

This week's readings **
Isaiah 66:18-21
"For I know their works and their thoughts; the time is coming to gather all nations and tongues. And they shall come and see my glory. I will set a sign among them and will send survivors from them to the nations: Tarshish, Put, Lud, Meshech, Tubal and Javan, to the distant coastlands that have neither heard my fame nor seen my glory. And they will declare my glory among the nations. Then they shall bring all your brethren from all the nations as a grain offering to the Lord, on horses, in chariots, in litters, on mules and on camels, to my holy mountain Jerusalem," says the Lord, "just as the sons of Israel bring their grain offering in a clean vessel to the house of the Lord. I will also take some of them for priests and for Levites," says the Lord.

Hebrews 12:5-7, 11-13
You have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons, "my son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the lord, nor faint when you are reproved by him; for those whom the lord loves he disciplines, and he scourges every son whom he receives." It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness. Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble, and make straight paths for your feet, so that the limb which is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed.

Luke 13:22-30
And he was passing through from one city and village to another, teaching, and proceeding on his way to Jerusalem. And someone said to him, "Lord, are there just a few who are being saved?" And he said to them, "Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. Once the head of the house gets up and shuts the door, and you begin to stand outside and knock on the door, saying, 'Lord, open up to us!' then he will answer and say to you, 'I do not know where you are from.' Then you will begin to say, 'We ate and drank in Your presence, and You taught in our streets'; and he will say, 'I tell you, I do not know where you are from; depart from me, all you evildoers.' In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but yourselves being thrown out. And they will come from east and west and from north and south, and will recline at the table in the kingdom of God. And behold, some are last who will be first and some are first who will be last."

* 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.

Earlier this morning a friend of mine came into the church to speak with me. He was very upset. I could tell he was heavily burdened. He is a sensitive person and very concerned about what is happening in the world with the human family. He was thinking about the terrible divisions that we find here in our own country. It seems that the divisions are getting worse. The rancor and the hatred seem to be building up. Certainly, in the broader human community and the family of nations, we see much hatred, division, violence and killing.

We're supposed to be one human family. Yet we seem to be almost ready to destroy one another and even to destroy the world in which we live, the world that God has given to us as a gift. I was deeply moved by his evident pain and concern. I felt that if only more people had the same concern, maybe we would be more determined to do something about it. But I also thought, if we listen deeply to the scriptures today we will find the way to healing within our world. That goes to every level: within our individual families, within our nation and within the community where we live. Listen deeply to what God is speaking to us today.

First, notice the role that Jesus takes. It is a role that he was most known for during his time on earth, the role of prophet. We think of Jesus as someone who founded a church that we now belong to, but in his time Jesus really didn't put together a church. He called together a community of disciples, and they began to follow him.

His main role was to proclaim God's word within the midst of the chosen people, the Jewish people. He was a prophet who was trying to reform the Jewish people and the Jewish religion, to bring them back to where God wanted them to be.

At the beginning of the Gospel today, we hear the story of a person who came up to Jesus and asked the question, "How many are going to be saved? Is it only a few?" I'm pretty sure that person was reacting to the parables Jesus had just told, because those parables seem to indicate that the word of God is going to spread everywhere: It is like a tiny seed that grows into a huge tree. It is like a tiny bit of leaven that causes the whole batch of dough to rise. The word would spread, said Jesus; God's love would envelop the whole Earth and the whole human family. This concerned the man, because he must have been thinking: Aren't we the chosen people? Aren't we the ones who come first? Aren't we the ones who are guaranteed to enter into the reign of God? How can Jesus speak about all these other people as he does?

Jesus was trying to draw the people back to where God wanted them to be. So he said to them, you who think you are special, chosen and saved, you may discover that the people you looked down on and rejected, the ones you called pagans, idolaters and nonbelievers, those are the ones God is enveloping in God's love.

Isaiah says it so beautifully in the first lesson today, and this was a long time before Jesus. Isaiah said, "I am going to gather the nations of every tongue, and they will witness my glory. I will perform a wonderful thing among them." And then he went on to speak about how people were going to come from the ends of the earth, from those nations that are named from the east to the west, from the north and the south. "From the distant lands where no one has heard of me or seen my glory, they will come. They will proclaim my glory among the nations."

Isaiah even said, "And then I will choose priests and Levites even from them." Priests and Levites hold very special roles within the chosen people, but in this lesson Isaiah is saying, "There are no special roles. There are no special chosen people. God loves all people. God calls all people into the reign of God."

Jesus said the same thing.

It was hard for the people then to hear it. In fact, Jesus had said something like this earlier when he had preached in the synagogue in Nazareth. At that time, he said, "No prophet is honored in his own country. Truly, I say to you, there were many widows in Israel in the times of Elijah, when the heavens withheld rain for three years and six months and a great famine came over the whole land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them but to a widow of Zarephath in the country of Sidon." That is, a person from outside the chosen people.

Jesus continued: "There were also many lepers in Israel the time of Elisha the prophet, but no one was healed except Naaman the Syrian." Another outsider who would have been looked down upon by the chosen people. When the assembly heard those words, they became angry. They took Jesus out of the town to the top of the hill on which Nazareth was built with the intention of throwing him down and killing him.

It is dangerous to be a prophet and speak God's true word, that God loves everybody, every nation, people of every religious group.

You know, Jesus says in the Gospel, "They will come from the north and the south, the east and the west." He could have said, "They will be Buddhists and Hindus, Muslims and even atheists." God loves them all, and God is trying to bring them all together into the reign of God.

We in the Catholic church sometimes think we are the real Christians, we are the ones who will be saved. People really use that terminology: "I'm saved, I'm special." Well God doesn't look on it that way. God has said that everyone is special. Everyone is chosen. Everyone on this whole planet is a son or daughter or God.

That was the vision Jesus had. He wants us to understand that we are brothers and sisters, and that God is the one God of us all.

We've heard that so many times in the eucharistic prayer. We'll hear it again today. God is the one God of all. That means we can't look upon ourselves as special, chosen and saved and believe others are not. Jesus warned people who might have an exclusive attitude; he said in the Gospel: "You will knock on the gate, and God will say, 'I don't know you. I don't know you because you never really followed my way.' "

Remember how Jesus said to people: "You can say, 'Lord! Lord !' but that won't get you into the kingdom of heaven. Anyone can say, 'Lord! Lord!' " It is the one who hears the word of God and follows it - that is the one whom God will welcome.

Jesus invites us today to understand this extraordinary, marvelous and most important truth: that God loves every person, every nation, every religion.

We who know God through Jesus must try to understand as deeply as we can that God is love. God does not hold up one group in favor of another. God does not look to destroy a group or to punish people. God calls all together -- through love.

If we're going to do that, we are going to have to change our ways.

That is how we can bring nations together. Instead of trying to bring democracy someplace through an army and through war, we will do it through the way of Jesus, through love, through commitment to other people and through caring about them.

We will try to draw together people of all faiths. We will work to prevent a war of religions in our world, a prospect that is so threatening.

Today Jesus said, "Enter the narrow gate." But remember that another time he said, "I am the gate." His message is: Enter through me. Hear my word. Live it. And you can bring peace into your family, into your homes, into your neighborhoods and into the world.

Enter through me. Hear my word, and draw all people together as sons and daughters of God. Bring healing into our world, peace into our hearts and peace everywhere.

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

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