Beatitudes, Matthew 25 key in following the Lord

by Thomas Gumbleton

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Editor's note: This homily was given at a July 21 Mass celebrating the 313th anniversary of St. Anne Parish in Detroit.

As I mentioned in introducing the Gospel today, it seems to me that Jesus is quite frustrated. After all, he has been preaching the good news, proclaiming the message of God's love. He's been working signs, healing people, driving out spirits -- evil spirits -- going about everywhere doing good, and the scribes and the Pharisees, the religious leaders, demand of him a sign. "Prove who you are," in a sense they are saying.

Monday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time
Micah 6:1-4, 6-8
Psalms 50:5-6, 8-9, 16bc-17, 21 and 23
Matthew 12:38-42
Full text of the readings

Jesus tells them, "Look back in your own history." Jonah, that great prophet who went to Nineveh, preached for three days, even though he was very opposed to this mission that God had given to him, and discovered that the people would follow him, which they did, and they were converted. And Jesus says, "Someone" -- talking about himself, of course -- "greater than Jonah is here, and you won't listen. You're demanding more signs."

Then Matthew goes on to cite how the queen of the south, the queen of Sheba, came to Solomon because he was world-renowned for his wisdom. These Jewish leaders knew this; they knew about Jonah, they knew about Solomon, and Jesus says, "There's someone greater than Solomon here. Why can't you listen?"

A little bit further on in Matthew's Gospel, Jesus -- and you'll remember this because we had it as a Sunday Gospel not long ago -- Jesus asked his disciples, "Who do people say I am? Who do people say I am?" "Well," some of them said, "Well, maybe -- they're saying maybe you're John the Baptist, or maybe you're Elijah, the prophet, come back." Then Jesus challenges them and says, "Who do you say I am?"

A question each one of us must face: "Who do you say I am?" Who is Jesus? Why should we listen to him? Well, Peter speaks up, remember? And he says, "You are the Christ, the son of the living God. You are the Christ, the son of the living God." Certainly someone greater than Jonah or any of the prophets, wiser than Solomon or any of their ancestors. Why do you not listen? This is Jesus, the Christ, the son of the living God.

And as we're listening to this Gospel, again the question is being given to us: Who do you say Jesus is? Are you ready to say he is the Christ, the son of the living God? Well, we're all gathered here because we do believe that, that Jesus is God, so his words are so important to us. We must listen to them, follow his way. Accept his teachings, imitate his actions.

A year ago, Pope Francis went to [Brazil], and there was a World Youth Day. And as always, he spoke to -- the Pope John Paul did this, and Francis continues -- huge gathering of young people, young people who had come to hear him. He challenged them about who Jesus is, and then he was telling them, "If you really want to follow Jesus, here's your program of action. Two places," he says, "in the Scriptures to follow Jesus really authentically: the Sermon on the Mount, the beatitudes. Take that as your program for action."

"Blessed are the poor." Blessed are the poor -- those who really trust in God's care and not put all their trust in material goods. They want to have enough, but not way more than they need. "Blessed are the gentle. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice. Blessed are the peacemakers."

Then the other place that Pope Francis said in our program of action is another part of Matthew's Gospel, Chapter 25. It's a parable Jesus tells. It's about the Last Judgment, and all of us, I'm sure, remember how Jesus says, "All the peoples of history are gathered before the son of man." And he says, "When I was hungry, you gave me to eat. When I was thirsty, you gave me to drink. When I was naked, you clothed me. When I was a stranger, you took me in. When I was in prison, you visited me."

And, of course, the people said, "When?" "Whenever you did it to one of the least of my brothers or sisters, you did it to me." So again, here's our program of action if we really believe Jesus is the Christ, the son of the living God. And there are many ways in which we could explore how to carry out this program of action. I'll just mention two briefly this morning.

One: "Blessed are the peacemakers," those who reject violence, those who reject war, those who want to follow the way of Jesus, which is the way of transforming love. Love your enemy, don't hate your enemy. Return good for evil. The power of transforming love, that's the way of Jesus. And don't we need to hear that message today? Violence all around us; a culture of violence in our city, in our country.

But look at the violence in the Middle East right now, that terrible invasion into Gaza. Well, that's a tiny strip of land ... No place to go, and the troops are coming in, destroying their homes. Where do they flee? They're being killed because the world, we included, turn to violence so easily, thinking that's how we settle our problems. But violence will never bring peace to our world, only the way of Jesus.

"Blessed are the peacemakers," those who reject violence and accept that the only way to transform our world is through that powerful transforming power of love. But then the other part of that program that we should follow: "When I was a stranger, you took me in." Look what's happening on our borders -- tens of thousands of children fleeing violence. They're not just immigrants, as immigrants have come to this country in the past. They're refugees; they're people who are fleeing violence.

Their lives are in danger. They have to escape, so they come north to our borders, and what do we do? We push them away, get rid of them. Last week, here in Detroit, someone spoke out strongly and took action against what our government is doing. I'm speaking about Dr. David Fike, the president of Marygrove College, and Sr. [Mary] Jane Herb, the president of the IHM, the Immaculate Heart of Mary Sisters, who own Marygrove College.

Dr. Fike said, "We'll bring those children to Detroit if the government will let us. And the 16 and older, we'll take them in and give them rooms in our dormitories at Marygrove College. And those that are capable, we'll give them scholarships so they can go to school." That's what we should be doing: welcoming the stranger, not pushing the stranger away, because as Jesus says, "I am that stranger. When you did it to the least of my brothers and sisters, you did it to me."

This is just a small part of the program of action that is offered to us in the Gospel that Jesus offers to us. Peace; be a peacemaker. Reject violence in any situation. Only respond to violence with love. Be generous, welcome the stranger. Take the stranger in; share what you have.

And all of this, of course, is not just something Jesus gives to us. It comes out of that Hebrew tradition, as we heard in our first lesson today, when the person the prophet Micah ... asked God, "What is -- what am I to do? What is worship? How do I worship?" "The only way [is] to act justly, to love tenderly, and follow humbly the way of the Lord, your God." This is what we must pledge ourselves to do, to carry out the program of action that Jesus, the Christ, the son of the living God, proclaims to us: act justly; love tenderly; follow humbly the way of the Lord, your God.

[Homily given at St. Anne Parish in Detroit. The transcripts of Bishop Gumbleton's homilies are posted weekly to Sign up here to receive an email alert when the latest homily is posted.]

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