How do we transform our world? Return violence and hate with love

by Thomas Gumbleton

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I think sometimes when we first hear the words of Jesus of today's Gospel, we might wonder, "Well, is Jesus really expecting us to become like little children? Doesn't he expect us to grow and become all that God wants us to be -- fully mature people?" Well, the answer is yes, God does want us to become all that God has made us to be. But there is something about children, little children, that makes them good models for us in what Jesus is trying to teach us.

Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Zechariah 9:9-10
Psalms 145:1-2, 8-9, 10-11, 13-14
Romans 8:9, 11-13
Matthew 11:25-30
Full text of the readings

See, children at a young age are curious. They want to find out more. They want to listen and learn. They're anxious to know, discover new things. And sometimes as we grow older, we begin to think we know it all. We can't learn anything new; we've got the answers. Jesus says that he gives thanks to God because God has actually revealed to little ones -- those who listen, those who are open to hearing a new word from God. They're the ones that are blessed. In fact, Jesus, a little bit later on, says, "Unless you become like little children, you'll never enter the reign of God."

So we must become like children, ready to listen, to learn, to grow in what Jesus wants to teach us. There's an important reason for this because if you look back in the book of the prophet Isaiah, you find the prophet saying, "My thoughts" -- speaking for God -- "my thoughts are not your thoughts. My ways are not your ways. As high as the heavens are above the Earth, so high are my thoughts above your thoughts, and my ways above your ways." What Isaiah is telling us is that God's ways are different, profoundly different, from what we're used to, from what our human ways are.

St. Paul, in writing to the church of Corinth, [in] the very first chapter reminds the people there in the Christian community how he tells them God's wisdom is so different because, he says, "Look! Here am I preaching a crucified Christ. I'm preaching a crucified Christ, one who is powerless, who gives himself over to his enemies, allows himself to be executed, tortured and executed. That's what I'm preaching."

He says to the Jews:"It's a scandal, a stumbling block. They can't get over this idea that God would make God helpless, totally vulnerable," and so it's a scandal; it can't get beyond. He says to the Greeks, the intelligent ones, "It's just plain foolishness that anyone would become powerless and try to transform the world by love, not by power and not by might." But then Paul says, "But the weakness of God is stronger than human strength, and the foolishness of God, yes, call it foolishness, but the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom."

It's that very foolishness of God, the weakness of God that is being preached to us today, that Jesus wants us to hear. When you go back to the first lesson from this morning in the book of the prophet Zechariah, you may have recognized when you heard that passage that you've heard it before because we hear it every year on Palm Sunday. It's a passage that the Gospel writers cite when Jesus is going up to Jerusalem and the people want to make him a king. They're going to make him a king like David, the great warrior king, who will overthrow the Romans and the occupation by violence. He'll be a warrior king.

But Jesus, if you remember (and this is taken directly from Zechariah), Jesus stops everything, asks his disciples to bring a donkey because he's not going to ride into Jerusalem on a war horse. He's not going to be a warrior king. He's going to be, as Zechariah says, "humble, riding on a donkey. And no more chariots, no more horses -- war horses -- in Jerusalem. This king will do away with them. He will do away with war. The warrior's road shall be broken when he dictates peace to the nations. And through his love, he'll reign from sea to sea, from the river to the ends of the earth."

This is the most radical teaching of Jesus, and it's so difficult for us to hear it, really to take it in. He wants us to give up violence, never to return violence for violence. Instead, return love for violence. He said it all in the Sermon on the Mount, and you've heard that. You know that. "Don't just love those who love you, love your enemies. Love your enemies; do good to those who hurt you."

See, it's not what we hear from the world around us. No, you've got to fight force with force, violence with violence. If they have military, we have to have stronger military because we need to war. See, and that's been the history of our nation. We find violence all around us -- in our neighborhoods, in our cities. Everywhere in our country, we have a culture of violence. There are more guns in the United States than there are households, more than one gun for every household in our country. Eighty-five people every day are killed by guns in our country. No other country is like that.

See, we're a country that has been committed to war. When we hear about -- well, what's going on in the Middle East right now. You know a week or two ago, three young Israeli teenagers were abducted and then murdered. So then last week, a Palestinian boy is abducted, tortured and murdered. When will it ever stop? And where do their weapons come from? Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia -- all those countries in the Middle East that are so engaged in violence now -- their weapons have all come from us because we make weapon production our No. 1 industry.

The sale of weapons to other nations is our biggest commodity. We seem to be committed to the idea that violence will bring peace, and Jesus is saying, "No, it won't. It never will; it never has." The only way we're going to transform our world is through the love that Jesus shows us: that you return love for violence, love for hate. That's how we can transform our world.

But the question today is: Are we going to hear this? Are we ready to try to change our own attitudes, the way we act within our everyday relationships? Or do we want to use power over other people -- if necessary, even force and violence? It's an important question if we're going to follow Jesus. We have to begin to listen to what he says, how he acted. That's the only way that violence will be ended.

Jesus promises us that our world can be transformed into the reign of God -- the reign of God where everyone will have a full human life, where there will be peace, joy, fullness of life. This world can be transformed, but only if we follow the way of Jesus.

So, as we celebrate this Eucharist today, perhaps we have to especially try to turn to that spirit of Jesus who lives within us, as St. Paul reminded us in the second lesson. That spirit of Jesus is within us. If we listen, try to change our ways of thinking, and then change our ways of action in our individual lives, in our neighborhoods, in our cities, our world, then the reign of God can break forth. And the peace of God will fill our hearts, fill our minds, our whole being, and gradually transform our world into the reign of God.

[Homily given at St. Philomena Catholic Church, 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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