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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. 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.)
James 1:17-18, 27
Mark 9:38-43, 45, 47-48
* 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.
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 think most of us are just a bit shocked when we hear Jesus speak as he speaks in today's gospel. We are used to thinking of Jesus as being very gentle and probably soft-spoken and compassionate. But today he is very harsh. Jesus seems to have lost his patience. He speaks with clarity and firmness. If we probe the gospel just a bit, I think we can begin to understand why Jesus is so upset.
If we go back a chapter or so in the Gospel of Mark, we discover that it wasn't very long before the events of today's lesson when Jesus had been telling his disciples about how he was going up to Jerusalem and was going to be handed over to his enemies and be tortured and put to death and so on, and then Peter rebuked him and said, "No! That's not going to happen. Don't let that happen! We can prevent that."
Jesus had to rebuke Peter. He called him a Satan. "Get behind me. You are trying to keep me from doing God's will." He went on to tell all the disciples, "Look! If you really want to be my disciple, you have to deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me. Be like me."
Evidently, they didn't really hear that. They didn't want to follow Jesus in powerlessness and helplessness, to have only love to respond to hate -- because, as we heard in last Sunday's gospel, the whole thing came up again. He told them a second time that he was going to Jerusalem. He was going to give up power. He was going to give up wealth and prestige. He was going to transform the world through love. Again, they didn't accept it. As they were walking along -- remember last Sunday -- they were arguing among themselves, and when they got to the house where they were headed, Jesus asked, "What are you arguing about?"
Well, again, they were arguing about who was going to be first, who was going to have the power, who was going to be over all the rest. Jesus became very discouraged.
In today's gospel, John informed Jesus and the disciples that someone was doing things in Jesus' name, and that "He is not one of us!" Why was John so upset? John, James and Peter were sort of an inner group within the already select group of apostles. They thought they would be the ones who would have power and control, not anyone else. And Jesus became really upset.
That is why he spoke out with such harshness. He was upset that the disciples just didn't seem able to understand how radically he wanted them to change. The truth of the matter is, we haven't fully understood, either, how much Jesus wants us to change. He wants us to give up power, wealth, prestige and status and to follow him. He wants us to change the world, not by domination and force, but by love. He wants us always to return love for hate and good for evil.
Today's lessons show us a couple of places where we need to change, and change quite dramatically. I suppose the most obvious is the second lesson. James says, "So now, for what concerns the rich, those who have more than most." That would include us, of course.
We are not aware of it most of the time, but four-fifths of the world's people do not live as we do. One-fifth of the world's people are absolutely poor. A lot of times we forget that, and we just go along without letting ourselves think about what it is like for other people. James condemns all these riches and even says it didn't happen by accident. He says, "You deceived the workers who harvested your fields, but now their wages cry out to the heavens. The reapers' complaints have reached the ears of the Lord of Hosts. You lived in luxury and pleasure in this world while others were killed by your selfishness. You have easily condemned and killed the innocent."
Is that true of us? Well, probably not so explicitly that we would say, "Because I am rich someone else is poor. I am taking my goods from them." Most of us share what we have to some extent and sometimes very generously. Still, we keep getting richer. Some individuals become richer, but all of us, as members of a community and as citizens of the nation, we all grow richer. We kill the poor in other parts of the world through the structures of the international order that we benefit from.
Here are the numbers that I just read this week about how we have organized what we call "free trade" -- but it so far from being fair trade:
"Justice more than charity is what poor nations need. According to International Monetary Fund estimates, a repeal of all rich-country trade barriers and subsidies to agriculture would improve global welfare by about $120 billion."
In other words, poor countries could become $120 billion richer if only we removed our subsidies from our agriculture corporations. If we really allowed fair trade to happen, poor nations could sell their products in our country without tariffs. But we won't let that happen, so the poor nations keep getting poorer and poorer.
The developed world's $120 billion in farm subsidies last year thwarted its $50 billion in development assistance. In other words, we were extracting far more from the poor nations than the $50 billion that the rich nations gave to the poor nations, so the wealth moved from them to us.
Maybe, if we begin to understand that, then when James says, "You deceived the poor who harvested your fields but now their sufferings cry out to the heavens," maybe we would recognize that their cries are being heard by God and that we are responsible.
James adds, "Cry and weep for the misfortunes which are coming upon you. Your riches are rotting, your clothes eaten up by moths." In other words, he is telling us we can't keep trusting in our wealth. We can't keep on organizing the world in a way that the wealth moves from the poor to the rich, and we keep getting richer and richer and they keep getting poorer and poorer. There is a time of judgment, when all our wealth will be rotting and worthless.
That is what Jesus is trying to warn us.
That's one way in which we need to change our lifestyle, our spirit of stewardship and generosity in order really to understand and care about what is happening to the majority of the people on our planet. Or what is happening even within our own state, or our own city. What's happening? What are we doing to change it? What are we doing to change our own hearts? Jesus is saying, "You need to change."
Today's lessons suggest other ways we need to change. Look at the situation Moses was in. He was one person trying to be the leader -- in a sense, the minister -- for the whole community, which had gotten larger and larger as they traveled through the desert. He was overwhelmed.
God said, "Well, share your spirit! Let others be ministers among you." So Moses did. Then, as you heard in the first lesson today, two people who were not there began prophesying back in the camp. Joshua, Moses' assistant, came up and said they shouldn't be ministering, they shouldn't be prophesying because they weren't there when Moses anointed the whole group.
Then God, speaking through Moses, said, "No. That's not so. You can't limit God's spirit by your ceremonies and your actions. God spreads the Spirit wherever God wishes." Then Moses said, "If only all the people would be filled with the Spirit, would prophesy, would minister, how changed everything would be!"
Doesn't that suggest to you that within our church right now we need to be open to changes? We try to limit God's spirit. We say, for example, that ministers in our church may only be men, only celibate men. Isn't it possible God is spreading the Spirit far beyond that limited group? Of course it is.
Our church right now doesn't seem to be open to that. There are those who want to control God, almost, if they could: "God can only give vocations to these people." That's not true. Maybe we have to change our own attitude and our own thinking and work for change within our church. God's spirit will not be limited. A great number of people who are well qualified for ministry are being excluded. Surely, God is providing the way for ministry to happen in our church far more effectively than it is right now. We need to change.
Finally, I suggest that the scriptures today tell us that we have to be careful about how sometimes within our community we exclude certain groups of people. In today's gospel, John didn't want the person who was driving out demons to be part of the community, but Jesus insisted on inclusivity. He said, "Draw everybody in. Anyone who gives a drink of water to someone else is really giving it to me; they should be part of our community. You don't have to set up artificial barriers by saying that some belong, some don't. Include everybody."
We have to try to be an ever more inclusive community ourselves by welcoming even those who may not be Roman Catholic to the table when we distribute Communion. Would Jesus ever say no to someone? I don't think so. He was open; he was trying to get the disciples to welcome everyone. His message is, "Don't make divisions. Don't exclude people. My community is open to all." Maybe we have to change our thinking there, too.
Sometimes we tend to be exclusive because of our attitude toward the poor or toward people of a different sexual orientation. We exclude certain ones. We say that divorced people are not welcome to Communion. That shouldn't be, according to what Jesus shows us. Here, too, we need to change our attitudes, change our hearts, change our thinking and work to change our church.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this homily, in today's gospel, Jesus seems so harsh. He tells us in what seems a very dramatic way: "If your hand is causing you to sin, cut it off! If your eye is causing you to sin, tear it out! If your foot is causing you to sin, cut it off!" Jesus didn't really intend that literally, because Jesus was always a ministering, healing person. But he did want us to try to understand how vehement he was about the need to do something radical to change.
I hope we can understand that today. I think that a lot of times, when we hear Jesus calling us to conversion, we kind of agree. We say, "Oh, yes. I would like to change." We might even make some small step to change. But Jesus is saying, "It is time for dramatic changes." We have to become radical in our attempt to be converted, to be changed: each of us individually, all of us as a community, and our whole church.
It is almost as though Jesus is saying, "It is a time of crisis. Ordinary things aren't enough. Do the dramatic, the radical. Change in some deep and profound way so that you can really follow me and bring the healing love of God's goodness into our community and into our world."
When each of us takes seriously this call to change along the lines the scriptures suggest today, then our church will be changed. Our world will be changed. The reign of God will begin to happen.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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