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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.)
Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, "How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!" The disciples were amazed at his words. So Jesus again said to them in reply, "Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God." They were exceedingly astonished and said among themselves, "Then who can be saved?" Jesus looked at them and said, "For human beings it is impossible, but not for God. All things are possible for God." Peter began to say to him, "We have given up everything and followed you." Jesus said, "Amen, I say to you, there is no one who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands for my sake and for the sake of the gospel who will not receive a hundred times more now in this present age: houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and eternal life in the age to come."
* 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.
Our second reading today reminds us that the Word of God is like a two-edged sword. If we listen to it, it cuts deeply. It is very challenging, challenging for all of us, although some of us would say, "Well, I'm not rich, so I don't have to worry."
Maybe we think of ourselves as being rich only if we're among the top elite in our country, the 400 people who have a combined income of $69 billion. That's more money than the total income of 21 countries in Africa, with 304 million people. Imagine - 400 people have greater combined incomes than more than 304 million people. That's really rich! Maybe, we think, those are the people who have to listen to this Word of God very carefully.
When Jesus called that person to give up his wealth in today's gospel, one thing became very clear immediately: he did not tell the young man that if he didn't give up his wealth, he would go to hell. Jesus didn't say that because the young man said he had lived according to all the commandments. But Jesus was asking for something more. He came to move beyond the commandments. He came to make the reign of God happen. So he tries to find followers who will move beyond simply keeping the commandments and who will follow him.
The reign of God, he declared at the beginning of his public life, is at hand. It could happen at any time, and it will happen to anyone who follows him. If we are willing to listen and follow Jesus, the reign of God is not at some future time; it is right now. And if we are going to follow Jesus, then the first thing we must do is take seriously what he is saying today.
Sometimes, people who read this gospel comment about the idea that "it is harder for a rich man to enter the reign of God than for a camel to go through the eye of a needle." They say that Jesus wasn't really talking about a needle's eye; it's just a figure of speech. But that is not so. Jesus really meant what he said. He was trying to get his disciples to understand that wealth can be a huge problem. So picture a camel - because camels were used to carry people's belongings - loaded with all kinds of material things, trying to go through the eye of a needle. It's impossible, of course. Jesus was trying to dramatize that wealth can keep us from entering the reign of God.
Why is it so hard for us to give up wealth? Jesus does not want us to be destitute. Every person has the right to a full human life with everything we need to become a full human person. Jesus doesn't want us to be deprived of material things like water, food or clothing.
The first thing he is trying to get across to us is why wealth can be a problem, how it can keep us from entering into the reign of God. So often, when you have wealth, you begin to feel you are self-sufficient. You have power. You can do what you want with all that money. You don't think you need God.
That can happen so easily if we put too much of our sense of security into our wealth. Then we lose the sense of how much we need God simply to be here. We wouldn't exist for an instant if God were not sustaining us in existence. We can forget that when we feel self-sufficient, when our wealth makes us feel that we can do whatever we want, makes us feel like we have prestige and power and people look up to us, and so on. Wealth can distort what God really wants us to be, and what God wants us to be is open to God. Our wealth will block that openness to God.
The message in today's gospel is also about an attitude we need to develop. When we have material things, and even if we are not excessively rich, we can begin to think that everything we have is ours. We forget a very hard truth, a truth that has been promulgated within the Catholic Christian community from the very beginning. The truth is that God made the world for all and not for a few. If you have more than you need, you have it unjustly.
I'd ask you to remember a story I told before about a priest friend who met an Ethiopian refugee begging in Washington, D.C. This refugee was asking for help, and he cried out: "This earth is not yours. This earth is not mine. This earth is God's. This earth is ours. Your food is not yours. Your food is not mine. It is God's. It is ours." That's what we need to try and grasp: God made the world for all, and when a few of us have more than we need, we are depriving others of what they have a right to use.
We are living in a situation of injustice if we are not trying to share what we have. We have to live with the understanding that this earth is not ours. The goods of the earth are not ours. They are God's, and so they are for all. If we don't begin to share our wealth with the four-fifths of the world's people who are in deep deprivation, we are living in sin. If we don't begin to find ways to distribute the wealth more equitably, we are living in sin. We are blocking ourselves from entering into the reign of God.
The goods of the earth are not ours. They are God's, and what belongs to God belongs to everybody. If we could have that spirit, our world could change quickly, and the reign of God would be upon us. There would be justice in our world. But as long as we hang on to material wealth, the reign of God will not happen.
Today's gospel has another message for us. Another reason that we cling to material wealth is that we believe wealth will keep us safe and secure. Jesus, though, is asking us to consider the true source of our security. Remember last Sunday's gospel, the last part of it? Jesus and his disciples had been talking about marriage and the faithfulness of marriage. Jesus placed a child in their midst and said, "Look at this child. This is where the reign of God is. If you don't enter the reign of God like a little child, you will never enter."
Why is a child such a perfect example? Because a child trusts in those who love him or her, and that is where children find security - in those who love them. We should have childlike trust in God. If we had such trust, we would be like - and here is another example you have heard before - we would be like Oscar Romero, the great archbishop of San Salvador who was shot to death. He knew he was going to be killed, and he told a reporter, "I have been threatened with death many times, but I don't believe in death without resurrection. Even if they kill me, I will rise again in the Salvadoran people."
Romero was a person whose total trust was in God - not in his position as archbishop, not in the wealth that he could have had as leader of the church. His trust was in God alone, so no matter what happened - even if they killed him - he could say, "So what. I will be alive. I will rise again in the Salvadoran people." That is what happened. His spirit is very alive in that nation.
That's what Jesus is telling us. That's the kind of trust we have to have - like a child who has total trust in God. If we have too much wealth, it begins to block our trust because we begin to think, "This is where I put my trust. This is what gives me security." But it won't. Jesus is pleading with us: be like that child. Don't trust in material goods. Trust in God.
It comes down to a question of balance. How do we have material goods - because we do need some material goods - without dismissing the Word of God? How do we balance that need with God asking us to let go and follow Jesus?
It isn't easy. We have to do what Solomon did in the first lesson today: "I prayed at great length and then understanding was given to me. I asked earnestly and the spirit of wisdom came to me." Then he began to see everything in the proper perspective.
I believe that if we pray with the same earnestness and fervor for that wisdom to understand, God will guide us and put everything in proper perspective. We will know how to let go of our material things and how to share. Then we will be able to follow Jesus. We will enter into the reign of God with peace and joy in our hearts. That will enable us to spread the Good News wherever we go and help make the reign of God happen in the world around us. So, pray for that wisdom and understanding. God will give it, and we will be able to follow Jesus.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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