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The Peace Pulpit:  Homiles by Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton

  Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time September 11, 2005

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.
This week's readings **
Sirach 27:30-28:7
Resentment and anger, these are foul things too, and a sinner is a master of them both. Whoever exacts vengeance will experience the vengeance of the Lord, who keeps strict account of sin. Pardon your neighbor any wrongs done to you, and when you pray, your sins will be forgiven. If anyone nurses anger against another, can one then demand compassion from the Lord? Showing no pity for someone like oneself, can one then plead for one's own sins? Mere creature of flesh, yet cherishing resentment! - who will forgive one one's sins? Remember the last things, and stop hating, corruption and death, and be faithful to the commandments. Remember the commandments, and do not bear your fellow ill-will, remember the covenant of the Most High, and ignore the offense. Avoid quarrelling and you will sin less: for the hot-tempered provokes quarrels.

Romans 14:7-9
For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself; for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; herefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord's. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.

Matthew 18:21-35
Then Peter came and said to Him, "Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?" Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven. For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he had begun to settle them, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. But since he did not have the means to repay, his lord commanded him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all that he had, and repayment to be made. So the slave fell to the ground and prostrated himself before him, saying, 'Have patience with me and I will repay you everything.' And the lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt. But that slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and he seized him and began to choke him, saying, 'Pay back what you owe.' So his fellow slave fell to the ground and began to plead with him, saying, 'Have patience with me and I will repay you.' But he was unwilling and went and threw him in prison until he should pay back what was owed. So when his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were deeply grieved and came and reported to their lord all that had happened. Then summoning him, his lord said to him, 'You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?' And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart."

* 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.

I'm sure that all of us are aware that today is Sept. 11, the fourth anniversary of the terrible act of terrorism that was committed against us four years ago. And isn't it extraordinary on this Sunday when we remember that horrific event that God speaks to us about forgiveness -- a message that, clearly, our nation as a whole has not heeded. Perhaps even each of us in our own hearts have not truly heard the message proclaimed today in the Book of Wisdom from the Old Testament but especially by Jesus in the gospel. If we take the time to reflect deeply on this word of God today, perhaps we will understand in a way that we haven't before the enormity of what God asks of us when God invites us to be a follower of Jesus.

It's too easy for us to be kind of casual about being a disciple. We say, "Yes, I'll follow Jesus. That's the way to salvation. That's the way to heaven." But we don't take it seriously enough to understand that Jesus is asking us to make tremendous changes in our lives, in our way of thinking, in our way of acting -- changes that are almost beyond human comprehension. Common sense almost tells us it is impossible to really follow Jesus. We're a lot like Peter. Peter had begun to hear what Jesus said; he had begun to understand what Jesus was really saying, "Look, you have to love one another, forgive one another ..." and so on. But Peter, probably like most of us of us would, said, "Hey, that's good but there has to be some limit! There's got to be some limit!" So he said, "What about seven times?" For Peter that was a huge amount, because seven was the number of completion in the Hebrew understanding. Seven was the number of days it took God to complete the world and at the end everything was done. It was complete. It was fulfilled. So seven is a lot but Jesus says, "Oh no Peter. Not seven. Seventy times seven." That goes beyond anything they could comprehend.

The same thing happened when Jesus was trying to teach how you have to love God with your whole heart, your whole soul, your whole mind, all your strength and then love your neighbor like that too! Remember the Pharisee? He -- probably like a lot of us -- thought to himself, "Well, O.K. I can love, but there must be some limit. There must be some time you have to put a condition on it." So he asked Jesus, "Well, who is my neighbor?" He wants Jesus to begin to limit it, "Surely only certain ones are our neighbors." But Jesus didn't limit it. Jesus made clear that anyone who is in need, anyone who appeals to you, anyone with whom you come in contact, anyone -- everyone -- is your neighbor. So you love everyone and without limit!

That may seem impossible, and that is why Jesus tells the parable that he tells today. He's trying to get us to see that once we become his followers, are baptized into a community, become part of a community of disciples, we move on to, in a sense, a whole different plane of living. It's totally outside of ordinary, everyday life. We enter into the reign of God. And in the reign of God everything is different. You can't even make comparisons, almost. It's a different order, a totally different way of being and interacting, relating between ourselves and God as we see one another. The parable, when you begin to take it apart, helps us to see what Jesus was getting at.

First of all we have to understand -- and I jotted these numbers down because it could be confusing -- Remember in the parable Jesus says that the official who owes the king money owed him 10,000 talents. Now that's a huge amount of money. One talent equals 10,000 denarii which is the amount of money in the second part of the story. And so 10,000 talents is 100 million denarii. And a denarius was the amount of money that equals one day's wage, and so this means that 100 million days wages are what this person owed to the king. It's a number that is almost beyond comprehension. In fact, one commentator says that it's more than the total amount of taxes that Rome collected from the whole province where Jesus was. So, it's a huge amount, and yet the king says, "It's gone. Forgiven! You don't have to do a thing." He acts with mercy towards the official.

In the next part, this person who was the official for the king meets his companion who owes him 100 denarii, one millionth of what the official owed the king. And so the contrast is beyond belief almost. The one person had owed an amount that you can't hardly comprehend. The other person, a tiny, tiny bit. Yet the official says to the second person: "You're going to prison until you pay it off." What was wrong with this person? Why didn't he get it? He had been forgiven so much. Why can't he extend himself just a tiny bit to his fellow servant? It's because he was still thinking in the same category that he had thought in when he went to beg for forgiveness. His words were, "I will repay you everything I owe." In other words, "tit for tat," as much as you owe you will pay back. But Jesus is saying, "We've moved into a different realm. It isn't tit for tat. It isn't you owe me so much, therefore you give me back so much. No, it's a totally different way of acting. God is saying, "No matter what you owe, God's mercy is without limit."

God gives without limits, forgives without limits. We have to move into that realm and not think of getting equal justice at every moment. "I get whatever you owe me and I will pay back whatever I owe somebody else." No, you get rid of that category and just move into the reign of God where God is merciful without limit. And that's how God is to every one of us. God is merciful without limits.

If we took the time to reflect, we probably would begin to realize how many different ways God's love has been extended toward us and God's mercy is given to us. And it's never with a condition, it's never with any limits upon us.

Jesus is inviting us to enter into this reign of God where there are no limits to mercy, no limits to love, no limits to forgiveness. The reign of God. A totally different way of acting, a different way of being.

When I reflect upon this, especially in the light of what happened four years ago, I'm forced to go back to the advice, the very profound wisdom, that Pope John Paul II offered at that time. I've shared this with you before, but it's important for us to listen again, because as a nation our response was and continues to be, "We must demand justice. We must get vengeance." We went to war against Iraq. Even though they were not responsible for the horror of Sept. 11; we used it as an excuse to go to war. And we went to war against Afghanistan. What did Pope John Paul II say? "In a world where the power of evil seems once again to have taken the upperhand ..." -- that's how he described what happened on Sept. 11 -- " how do we as disciples of Jesus respond? Recent events including the terrible killings just mentioned move me to return to a theme that often stirs at the depths of my heart when I remember the events of history which mark my life, especially my youth. The enormous suffering of peoples and individuals even among my own friends and acquaintances caused by Nazis and communist totalitarianism has never been far from my thoughts and prayers." He experienced the terrible evil of Nazism, communism, tyranny, torture, suffering and death. That was part of his everyday life and that of his friends and acquaintances. "I've often paused to reflect on the persistent question, 'How do we restore the moral and social order subjected to such horrific violence?' " Over many decades he was contemplating this: How do you restore order? How do you bring peace out of a situation where there's such horrific violence? "My reasoned conviction confirmed by biblical revelation ..." -- in other words listening deeply to God's word -- "is that the shattered order cannot be fully restored except by a response that combines justice with forgiveness. The pillars of true peace are justice and that form of love which is forgiveness: enemy love. Without it we will never have peace." Justice means trying to see that everyone has what each has a right to. That's what justice means. It doesn't mean getting even. We build a world of peace on justice when we reach out to try to share the goods of the Earth with all and then we forgive. We love our enemy.

Four years later isn't it clear that we've made a horrendous mistake when we went to war in response to that horrific act on Sept. 11? When we think of what has happened to the country of Iraq, it is still in chaos and turmoil and suffering. You know if you think about what happened to New Orleans, the people without electricity, without clean water, without enough food, people left abandoned, people killed - that's Iraq. And it's gone on now for 12 and a half years, well no, now almost 15 years. That his how long the people in Iraq have suffered. We made it worse when we went to war against them in response to what had happened to us. What if we had really done the opposite, if we had responded as our call as Christians really requires us to? We could have begun to build those two pillars that would bring peace. We would be finding ways to share the resources of the planet. That is, of course, the basis of the war -- having control of resources. If we had responded as Christians, we would be trying to find a way to share resources so that everyone on the planet would be able to have a full life. We would have forgiven those who did the horrific act. We would be reaching out to them with love.

You can't undo what's been done but at this moment each of us can try to listen more deeply to God's word and try to take it in, try to understand what it really means to be a disciple of Jesus. It's an enormous step we take when we say, "I will follow Jesus." We should think about that, pray over that. We have to do this as individuals in our everyday life, not just as a nation but each of us individually in everyday life in our interactions with one another. The only way we will be able to bring peace into our everyday life, into our hearts is by building it on those same two pillars, sharing what we have and forgiving one another.

But then we also have to begin, each of us, to influence what is going on within our country, to try to move us in the direction as John Paul puts it, to "confront a situation where evil seems to have the upper hand." We have to do something dramatic, something totally different, move into the realm of God and act according to the way of the reign or realm of God. The conversion that has to happen, I think, is expressed quite well by St. Paul in today's second lesson when he told us, "If we live, we live for the Lord and if we die, we die for the Lord. Either in life or death we belong to the Lord." The goal for each of us, should be to make that deep commitment, "We belong to Jesus whether we live or die always, every moment forever we belong to Jesus." Making that commitment our number one allegiance in our lives and trying to follow Jesus, then we would begin to live in the realm of God. Then God's mercy, love, forgiveness and peace would envelop us. It can happen right now if we chose truly to follow the way of Jesus.

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

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