National Catholic Reporter
The Independent Newsweekly
 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.  By signing up for our weekly e-mail, you will be notifed as soon as each is available. (See the upper right corner of this screen.)
Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time
September 7, 2003
This week's readings **

Isaiah 35: 4-7

Say to those with anxious heart, "Take courage, fear not. Behold, your God will come with vengeance; The recompense of God will come, But He will save you." Then the eyes of the blind will be opened and the ears of the deaf will be unstopped. Then the lame will leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute will shout for joy. For waters will break forth in the wilderness and streams in the Arabah. The scorched land will become a pool and the thirsty ground springs of water; in the haunt of jackals, its resting place,grass becomes reeds and rushes.

James 2: 1-5

My brothers and sisters, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism. For if a person comes into your assembly with a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and there also comes in a poor person in dirty clothes, and you pay special attention to the one who is wearing the fine clothes, and say, "You sit here in a good place," and you say to the poor one, "You stand over there, or sit down by my footstool," have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil motives? Listen, my beloved: did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which God promised to those who love God?

Mark 7: 31-37

Again Jesus went out from the region of Tyre, and came through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, within the region of Decapolis. They brought to Him one who was deaf and spoke with difficulty, and they implored Him to lay His hand on him. Jesus took him aside from the crowd, by himself, and put His fingers into his ears, and after spitting, he touched his tongue with the saliva; and looking up to heaven with a deep sigh, he said to him, "Ephphatha!" that is, "Be opened!" And his ears were opened, and the impediment of his tongue was removed, and he began speaking plainly. And Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone; but the more he ordered them, the more widely they continued to proclaim it. They were utterly astonished, saying, "He has done all things well; He makes even the deaf to hear and the mute to speak."

 * 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.

The scriptures this morning give us a powerful message. But to hear the message, we might first have to be cured, just as the man in the gospel was cured. Because sometimes, we have a spiritual deafness or a spiritual blindness that keeps us from seeing what Jesus is trying to show us or hearing what he is trying to tell us.

This morning in our opening prayer we prayed to God: "Open our eyes to the wonders this life sets before us." We prayed to remind ourselves that God has invited us into the circle of God's life. Then we asked to have our eyes opened to the wonders this life sets before us. If we listen to the scriptures this morning, we get a sense of the marvelous things that can happen. Much of this is symbol and shows us what God can really do.

The first lesson was written for people who had been in exile. They suffered for almost 70 years; they were deprived of most of the ordinary amenities of everyday life. It was a cruel imprisonment and exile. Then, suddenly, God said to them: "Have courage, do not fear. See, your God comes bringing justice. This is the God who comes to give you life." The prophet went on to say that the eyes of the blind would be opened, the tongues of the mute would sing and shout. Streams would gush forth from the desert. The thirsty ground would become a pool. The arid land, springs of water.

The prophet wanted the people to know that after so much suffering, God would make everything new. God would give life where there was death. God would give sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, and speech to the mute. There is nothing that God can't do. The people who heard the proclamation of Isaiah saw it happen. A very short time later, they were brought home from their exile. Their whole nation was restored. They were brought into a peaceful situation. This a sign of the reign of God.

Jesus invokes the same signs in the gospel lesson today to tell us: "The reign of God is at hand." Those were the first words he proclaimed when he began his public life. In today's readings, he shows us signs that this reign of God is happening. Jesus meets a man who is deaf and mute, and he cures him, heals him and makes him whole. It is a sign of what Jesus can do. It is a sign that the reign of God is here.

We should celebrate that the reign of God has come into our midst, because Jesus came among us. Yet, we also have ample evidence that the reign of God has not yet come into its fullness. While we are a long way from the fullness of God's reign, I should mention this: there is no reason that any one of us cannot experience the reign of God right now by living according to the way of Jesus. The reign of God will happen in my life and in your life, once we fully follow Jesus.

And that is what makes us so sad when we look at what is happening in our world. We have not -- not all of us together -- truly entered into God's reign by living according to the way of Jesus.

This past week you must have seen on television, read in the newspapers, or heard on the radio about the execution in Florida of Paul Hill, a former Presbyterian minister who killed an abortion doctor and his bodyguard in 1994, he said, to save the lives of unborn babies. He was executed Sept. 3. That hit me with truly profound sadness. This was a minister of the gospel of Jesus who was put to death. He was put to death because he killed two people. The doctor had been killing human beings through abortions. Certainly this is one of the tragedies of our society: that tens of thousands of human lives are destroyed every day.

The incident is, just as Pope John Paul described war, a defeat for humanity. It is terribly sad that innocent lives are destroyed through abortion every day. But then, to end that killing, someone who is a minister of the gospel kills someone, as if that violence will end the other violence. Then the state kills him to end his kind of violence. It goes on and on.

How can anyone say that he is killing in the name of Jesus - either the minister who killed, or the Christian governor of Florida who authorized the execution? How can they say they are acting according to the way of Jesus? The reign of God is far from being realized in our world. Truly, it should make us profoundly sad that anyone would think that by killing, he is working to make the reign of God happen. This is exactly the opposite of everything Jesus preached, the way he lived, and all he stood for. His only response to violence was to love the one doing the violence. He showed it so clearly when they came to arrest him. Peter took out his sword and tried to kill. Jesus said: "Don't kill to stop the killing."

Another clear sign that the reign of God is far from being fulfilled is our remembrance this week of the second anniversary of the destruction of the World Trade Center Towers in New York City, and the planes that crashed into the Pentagon and into the ground in Pennsylvania. Three thousand and some people were killed in those acts of terrorism. It is a terrible sadness that all of that happened. Many of the people who perpetrated those actions thought, too, that they were acting on behalf of God.

What has been our response? Two wars. We have carried out two wars since September 11, 2001. What has been the outcome of those wars? Further suffering and further killing. The people in Afghanistan have not been given a new life because we bombed them, strafed their villages and killed so many there. Their society has not been restored. They are still living in terrible poverty and suffering. The violence goes on in Afghanistan day after day. Our troops are still there killing and being killed.

In Iraq, of course, it is even worse. We carried out a devastating attack and killed thousands and thousands of innocent people. What Pope John Paul predicted is happening: when you go to war, you leave behind a trail of hatred and resentment that makes it all the more difficult to resolve the very problems that provoked the war. Isn't that what we have done in Iraq? We have made it more difficult for the people of Iraq to have full human lives.

Therefore, we must feel a profound sadness, because we are so far from following the way of Jesus and listening to what he teaches us.

But we have hope. It is not all sadness. Sometimes things happen to show us that the reign of God can break forth. It may be something that seems small, but is really significant. St. James speaks about such an experience in the second lesson today when he describes how, generally, we do not have much respect or regard for the poor. He describes our typical reactions when meeting people. If a rich person comes in all dressed up in finery, we say, take the high place. We honor them in our midst. If someone comes in off the street, a street person, we push them aside or tell them to sit at our feet. This is not the way of Jesus. James is saying that every person deserves our profound respect, because every person is made in the image of God. Every person. We must not make distinctions.

If we are ever going to bring about the reign of God, or enter into Jesus' work of bringing about the reign of God, it will be because we have developed that spirit of profound respect for every human person. Not looking at external appearances, but the person. This is fundamental.

Once in a while, this happens. I experienced such an occasion last Monday. As you will see in the bulletin today, many people came last Monday on the holiday (Labor Day) to serve a meal for the community that is outside this building in our neighborhood all around here. At least 250 people came for that meal. Most probably would have gone hungry that day without the meal we served. I was very impressed with the way that people were respected and honored as our guests. For that, I want to congratulate our parish community.

I found this so inspiring. I have often felt that in this parish, we have two churches. We have the church that gathers upstairs on a Sunday morning, and we have the church that gathers downstairs to eat every other day of the week. Last Monday, suddenly, we were all one. People from this church were mingling with people from the other church. We were serving them a meal, showing respect and love and care.

This is a very small sign, perhaps, but it is a clear sign of what the reign of God is about. Our challenge is to expand this experience, to make it not just an occasional event but an attitude we carry with us so that we always show respect and regard for the poor, the oppressed and the suffering in other parts of the world or right in our own community. If we had this attitude of profound respect and love for every person, then we could not kill through abortion. We could not kill those who carry out abortions. We could not execute criminals. We could not wage war. We would always find the way to follow Jesus: the way of love, the way of non-violence, the way of healing, the way of bringing wholeness. And our world could be transformed.

The message from today, if we really listen, is that we must pray to God that Jesus will heal us of our blindness, of our deafness and of our inability to proclaim his word. Pray that Jesus will heal us so we will take that step right now and enter into the reign of God and live according to the way of Jesus. When each of us does this, the reign of God will be much closer to coming to its fullness.

I urge us to pray with fervor today that each of us will take that step, enter into God's reign and live according to the ways of that reign of God, reign of Jesus.

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

Copyright © The National Catholic Reporter Publishing  Company, 115 E. Armour Blvd., Kansas City, MO 64111  TEL:  1-816-531-0538   FAX:  1-816-968-2280