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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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21th Sunday in Ordinary Time
August 24, 2003
This week's readings **

Jos 24:1-2a, 15-17, 18b

Joshua gathered together all the tribes of Israel at Shechem, summoning their elders, their leaders, their judges, and their officers. When they stood in ranks before God, Joshua addressed all the people: "If it does not please you to serve the LORD, decide today whom you will serve, the gods your fathers served beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose country you are now dwelling. As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD." But the people answered, "Far be it from us to forsake the LORD for the service of other gods. For it was the LORD, our God, who brought us and our fathers up out of the land of Egypt, out of a state of slavery. He performed those great miracles before our very eyes and protected us along our entire journey and among the peoples through whom we passed. Therefore we also will serve the LORD, for he is our God."

Eph 5:21-32

Brothers and sisters: Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives should be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is head of his wife just as Christ is head of the church, he himself the savior of the body. As the church is subordinate to Christ, so wives should be subordinate to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her to sanctify her, cleansing her by the bath of water with the word, that he might present to himself the church in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. So also husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one hates his own flesh but rather nourishes and cherishes it, even as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This is a great mystery, but I speak in reference to Christ and the church.

John 6:60-69

Many of Jesus'disciples who were listening said, "This saying is hard; who can accept it?" Since Jesus knew that his disciples were murmuring about this, he said to them, "Does this shock you? What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail. The words I have spoken to you are Spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe." Jesus knew from the beginning the ones who would not believe and the one who would betray him. And he said, "For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by my Father." As a result of this, many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him. Jesus then said to the Twelve, "Do you also want to leave?" Simon Peter answered him, "Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God."

 * 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.

Reflecting on the scriptures for today, I was reminded of an axiom that was spoken of in the very early church. The early theologians of the church made the statement: (I will use the Latin) Ecclesia semper reformanda. "The church must always be reformed." The church always is in need of conversion, of being reformed, renewed, and made whole again. The church means the whole community of disciples of Jesus, but also each one of us. We have to be constantly open to being converted, to being changed, radically changed even.

This is what the lessons are about today if we listen carefully. Joshua is cited in the first lesson. This passage was written in the 7th century before Christ, but the event described happened in the 12th century before Christ. We see here an example of something I have described before: when an oral tradition that had been passed down from generation to generation among the chosen people and among the early Christians began to be written down, the writers selected those things from the tradition that were needed at that particular time to bring the people into accord with God.

In the 7th century, people were beginning to fall away from their faithfulness to God, so the writer goes back into their history and draws forth what was part of the oral tradition about Joshua and what happened after he took over leadership from Moses. The people were becoming unfaithful. They needed to be changed, to be converted. Five centuries later, this was still true; conversion had to happen again. God's people always tend to become lax, to fall away from the hard truth, the hard sayings we hear about in the gospel.

The same thing is happening in the gospel. That gospel was written at the end of the 1st century. People at that time were beginning to lose their fervor, beginning to fall back from their full commitment to follow the way of Jesus. So the author, drawing from the oral tradition, structured this incident (which happened after Jesus preached in Capharnum) in a way to address the people who were beginning to fall away. The author poses the question very bluntly to the people at that time: "Will you also go away?" Then, we have the great example of Peter standing up and speaking out for everyone: "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We know that you are the Christ, the Son of God."

The author was trying to get his audience at the end of the 1st century to renew their conviction: "You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God." Today, the church -- you and I and our whole community -- still needs to be reformed, to be converted, so that question is being posed to you and to me this morning. Which God will you follow? Will you answer like Joshua: "We will follow the true God, my family and I." Will you answer like Peter: "Yes, we know you are the Christ, the Son of the Living God. We are going to follow you in your way." This is the challenge that is being presented to each one of us. Our church needs to be reformed. You and I need to be converted to follow the way of Jesus.

Out of the lessons today, I can think of two or three very specific ways in which we need to be renewed, to be converted, to be changed. The first example that I cite might surprise some of us. It is in the second lesson today. This passage sometimes people reject, because it seems to say that women must be submissive to men, and that men are dominate in our society, or should be. This is the wrong interpretation of this passage. If you listen very carefully to the very first sentence, what Paul is telling the church at Ephesus --- this is a church that had heard the message before, but Paul is writing to them 20 years later, and they needed to hear it again -- "Be subject to one another out of obedience to Christ." Or, let all submission to one another become obedience to Christ. It isn't just women who must be subject to their husbands. Both men and women are subject to one another in that marriage relationship out of obedience to Jesus. As Jesus was totally obedient in his life, he is the model for all of us in our relationships with one another, and especially in the relationship of married life. It is a relationship of equality, mutuality and of total service to one another.

You can always tell what problem a scripture writer is dealing with by looking at what is receiving the emphasis. If you read through this passage, who gets the most attention? Husbands. Evidently the husbands were not living up to what Paul had taught them about mutuality. Paul is insisting that married persons must be mutual, equal to one another. Paul says to love as Jesus loved all of us, that is, be total gift to one another. There is no domination, no subservience. It is all about equality and mutuality.

Those people at Ephesus needed to hear that then, and certainly in our church, we need to hear it now. We still have not achieved what Paul preached back then. If we look back to an earlier letter of Paul to the Galatians, he says that all of us who are baptized are equal in freedom and in dignity. Among the baptized there is no longer slave or free, Jew or Gentile, rich or poor, male or female. All are equal in Christ. In the first century, people began to forget that, which is why Paul wrote this later letter to the church at Ephesus. "Remember, we are all equal in Christ."

Our church needs to hear that message today, because we still do not have full equality in the church for women. It is very clear, it seems to me, that the majority of Christians, and the Catholic Christians in this country, think ordination ought to be open to women, but we don't let that happen in our church. We have not reached the fullness of conversion that we are being called to. We are being called to full equality and full mutuality, to a place where every person is afforded his or her full rights as a person.

So we need to be converted. Individually and as a community of disciples, we need to be converted to the full awareness and acceptance of everything Jesus said. Because, certainly in his life, he made no distinctions based on whether a person was man or woman. The first one called to go and proclaim the good news of the resurrection was a woman, not a man. Jesus always included women. When he sent his disciples out two by two, they were men and women. His whole approach was equality and mutuality. We need to be converted to that.

Yesterday I read an article by a young woman who had been a Peace Corps volunteer in one of the poorest countries of the world, Burkina Faso in Africa. She was leaving her post as Peace Corps person at the end of two years. She had been in a very, very remote village, and she needed to ride on a bicycle a number of miles down a dirt path to get to a highway that would take her to the main city. Shortly after she started, her bicycle broke down and she could not pedal it. She did not know what she was going to do. But a man came along with another bike, and he figured out a way to tie her bike to his. She sat on her bike, and he could pedal for both of them. In this fashion, he managed to get them up and down hills to where they were going, though it was a grueling experience for the man. Here is what she writes:

Later when we arrived at my destination, he was exhausted. I was giddy and in awe of his generosity. I took a long look at his face, and those kind eyes. I told myself never to forget it, because this man is the heart of Burkina Faso. This man is not an exception in his culture. He is the very essence of it.

Two years ago at the age of 27, I volunteered for Peace Corps service to "give back" to the world. Today I realize I gained much more in return. I am no longer a volunteer, but I continue to work in the western part of the country. When I think back on that moment when I was stranded on that deserted cow path, there was a part of me that was calm, because I knew where I was. I was in a place where you never feel alone or abandoned because someone will always come along to help you. A place where a starving woman would give her last bowl of food to a stranger; where kids are elated to play with an old tire and a stick, a place where family unity is everything, and the guest is paramount.

To these people, these principles are more than just cultural values, they are a way of life. Burkina Faso means "the land of the upright and courageous people". It is one of the poorest countries in the world, but a place where I learned what giving truly means.

Here is a person in a very deserted area, her means of travel is broken down, what is she going to do. Obviously, right away someone is there to help her. She says that this is always the pattern. And there are people who share everything that they have. No one is lonely. No one is abandoned. And the poorest ones are willing to share. She uses the extreme example of a starving woman willing to share her bowl of food with a stranger.

This reminds me, by contrast, of what it our country is like. Think of our society. Is it anything like that? People are left abandoned all the time. Old people are abandoned by their families. We have homeless people in our city. We do not have that spirit of generosity, that spirit of sharing. We make sure that our doors are not just locked, but double locked. We put bars on our windows. People live in gated communities. We cut ourselves off from one another. Why does this happen? Why are we so different from the people of Burkina Faso?

I think one of the hard sayings of Jesus would explain it. Back in Matthew's Gospel toward the end of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, "No one can serve two masters. For you will either hate one and love the other, or you will be loyal to the first and look down to the second. You cannot at the same time serve God and money." Don't we live in a culture where money has become all-important? Not just dollar bills in our pockets, but all the wealth that we accumulate, that we guard so tightly. We keep for ourselves so much.

Jesus says this is why I tell you not to be worried about food and drink for yourself, or about clothes for your body. Is not life more important than food? Is not a body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air. They do not sow. They do not harvest. They do not store food in barns. And yet, God feeds them. Are you not worth much more than the birds of the air? We have lost that sense, I think, of really trusting in God. We put our trust in our wealth. Thus, we have created a society where we don't have that beautiful spirit that this young lady describes from her experience in the poorest country in the world. We have come too much to love our material things.

Somehow we need to be converted once more to that attitude that Jesus is proclaiming. Trust in God, not in money. Put all your confidence in God and be willing to share. Don't cut ourselves off from one another, don't live behind bars. Open ourselves, open our homes, open our communities in love. This is a hard saying, isn't it? How do we deal with the wealth we have accumulated, to really become poor in spirit. It is a challenge to each one of us and to our whole church.

How are we going to be a church in solidarity with the majority of the people on this planet, the majority who are poor? How are we going to really share, and create a society here within our own neighborhood, and in our own country, that is open, loving, sharing and caring? It will take conversion, I think, for every one of us. This is why we need to listen very deeply to the scriptures today. Hear God speaking through Joshua: Which god are you going to serve? The real true God or the god of money or the god of arms? Which god are you going to serve? Are you really going to be ready to say "Yes" to Jesus, that he is the way, the truth and the life? Or, will you walk away?

Jesus asks very plainly: "Will you also leave?" Peter responded: "No, Lord, we know that you are the Christ, the son of the living God. We will follow you." Can we answer as Peter did? If we can -- and really mean it -- then I am sure that each one of us will find the way in which we each need to be converted. And this will help to change our whole church, and we will become more truly and authentically the community of disciples of Jesus.

So face the question today. Pray that you can give the answer: Yes, I will follow the true God revealed to me in Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

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

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