Usually during the week before I prepare a homily for Sunday, I kind of try to keep track of what's going on in the world around us so that I can try to understand in some way and share here how we might apply the teachings of Jesus to what's happening around us. This week, I must admit, I felt it's going to be impossible with the terrible things that are going on in our country. It probably will seem irrelevant, whatever the Scripture lessons are, to try to deal with the overwhelming problems that we face.
There was a piece in the paper that I read, an interview with the police chief of Milwaukee. He, in this interview, agreed with a number of police officials who said they believe the only lasting solution to the violence and division was to end the glaring inequalities that fuel them, but they saw little hope that this would happen. At least there's insight here that these terrible killings that are going on in our country have some root causes; but who is going to try to discover those and deal with them?
Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
In fact, this police chief, Ed Flynn said, "We're the most heavily armed violent society in the history of Western civilization and we dump this duty of trying to resolve our problems on 25-year-old police officers." When he said, "We are the most heavily armed," there are 300 million guns in our country. No other country in the world compares to that. In fact, in Dallas when that terrible killing of the five police officers happened, there were people in that crowd walking around carrying long guns, rifles, even assault rifles because in Texas there's no law against that.
Can you imagine a public demonstration that there are people (and some of them in camouflage suits) with long rifles, assault weapons? When the shooting started it's no wonder they began to think it was more than one killer because there were so many guns right there in the crowd. In fact, it's almost probably just good luck that more people in the crowd weren't killed. That's the kind of violence that we're dealing with.
And then again, the problem is the underlying inequalities that fuel the anger and the rage. Ed Flynn says, "The problem for American policing is we're learning the hard way that our political leaders find it far easier to develop a constituency at the expense of our police than to solve these social problems." In other words, we're not, as a community through our leadership, really getting at the root problems, so we leave the police so vulnerable.
So what do our Scriptures say about this today? Obviously, the Scripture lessons are truly quite pertinent, quite appropriate. First of all, God is telling us in our first lesson if we look deeply enough in our heart we can find God speaking to us, God leading us, but we have to go into the quiet of our heart and discover the presence of a God who is love, present to us, guiding us. That can happen even in the terrible circumstances that seem to be evolving within our country.
If we listen deeply, God can guide us. But then it isn't just listening deeply in our hearts. What did St. Paul say today? "Jesus is the visible image of the invisible God." Do you want to know how to act in the face of violence, how to act when someone is attacking you? Jesus is our visible image of God who is love, so we turn to Jesus. What do we hear in the Gospel today? A story that is truly extraordinary, almost unbelievable.
We probably miss the depth of the story because we're not aware enough of the hostility, the hatred that existed between Samaritans and Jews. It had gone on for hundreds of years. When Jesus tells this story, trying to teach the teacher of the law what he means by love your neighbor, he chooses a person, a Samaritan, whom the Jews hate and Samaritans hate the Jews. They're enemies; they're ready to kill one another almost at the drop of a hat.
Yet in this story, when a Jewish traveler was moving from Jerusalem to Jericho (a very dangerous road), and is attacked, a priest comes by and passes on. A Levite comes by and passes on. But a Samaritan looks at the scene and is filled with compassion. Then he brings the healing and the love that God calls upon all of us to bring. Jesus is showing us that in order to break down hostility, in order to end violence, we have to be ready to be filled with compassion, be ready to love our neighbor, and as Jesus tells us it goes beyond just who happens to be our neighbor, even someone who may be an enemy.
"Love your enemies; do good to those who hurt you." We have to ask ourselves, "Have we really probed deeply enough to discover what Jesus means by this love of neighbor, love of enemy?" In fact, in our Eucharistic prayer that we say when we celebrate Mass, there's a passage that says to God, "Open our eyes to the needs of our brothers and sisters; inspire in us words and actions to comfort those who labor and are burdened. Help us to serve them truly, after the example of Jesus and at his command."
We pray that when we gather for the Eucharist, "Help us to serve our neighbor, even our enemy, after the example of Jesus and at his command." It's Jesus who is asking us to do this, and it's Jesus who is showing us the way to love even our enemy, to do good to those who hurt us. It's a very demanding charge that Jesus gives to us. Maybe we have to take some time to look more carefully how Jesus did reach out in compassion because sometimes I think we say, "Oh, I'm willing to help, just tell me where I can donate, or something that I can write a letter for." But we don't get ourselves personally engaged.
But we watch Jesus to discover that he doesn't just cure crowds in huge numbers by saying a word or two or giving a blessing. No, he wants to deal with each individual person insofar as he can because he has a profound respect for every person no matter where the person is on the economic scale or the societal scale or whatever -- Jesus cares for every person. There's one incident in the Gospel where Jesus is in the midst of a huge crowd, and a woman who is suffering some flow of blood, as Luke calls it, touches his garment.
Jesus stops everything and says, "Who touched me?" The woman is frightened; she's afraid Jesus is angry. But no, it isn't that at all. Jesus doesn't want it to be impersonal. She's healed but he wants to engage with her, so he stops until he discovers who it is. Then he speaks to her in a kind, compassionate, loving way. He wants to make that human connection because he respects her; she's a person made in the image and likeness of God as every human being is.
There's another beautiful example almost at the end of the life of Jesus when he is walking from Jericho to Jerusalem to meet his death. He comes across a blind beggar on the wayside crying out, "Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me!" The crowd tries to make him be quiet, "Why would he want to talk with you, this poor beggar?" But Jesus stops everything and calls the blind man over because he wants to engage with him.
If you notice in this incident, any one of us would say, "Of course, I know what that man wants: he needs to get his blindness cured. That's what he's looking for -- sight." Not Jesus. He's so respectful, he doesn't presume to know what someone else wants. When the man is calling for help, Jesus says, "What can I do for you?" It could have been something else, but Jesus let the man speak for himself. That's showing respect to a human person made in the image and likeness of God.
That's what Jesus does in every contact he has with the poor and the oppressed. He always treats them with respect, gives them the full dignity of being a child of God, like every one of us. Maybe that's part of what we have to learn as we struggle to find the ways of resolving the hostility and the anger and the violence that seems to be overrunning our country. We're in the midst of a political campaign that just seems to stir it up more and more. Somehow we have to stop all of this.
Today, if we really take the time to turn to the Scriptures, to listen, to reflect, to hear what God is speaking to us and to see Jesus, the visible image of the invisible God and the way he acts, perhaps we can learn and maybe really do as we pray in the Eucharistic prayer that we will be inspired in words and actions to comfort those that labor and are burdened, to serve them truly after the example of Jesus and at his command. This is what we must try to do and perhaps slowly we can bring peace into our society.
[Homily given at St. Philomena Parish, Detroit, Mich. The transcripts of Bishop Gumbleton's homilies are posted weekly to NCRonline.org. Sign up here to receive an email alert when the latest homily is posted.]