The readings have been long, but of course since this is the beginning of the most sacred and holy week of the year, it's important for us to spend just a few moments at least in reflecting on the deep message that God is proclaiming to us through these readings, through the events that are described. And perhaps we can catch the deepest meaning of all of this if we listen very carefully again to the words of St. Paul addressed to the Christian community at Philippi.
Palm Sunday of the Lord's Passion
He was pleading with them to come back to the way of Jesus, and so he said to them, "Have this mind in you, which was in Christ Jesus, the mind, the heart, the attitude, the way of Jesus. You must have that. Who, though he was God, emptied himself, became human, fully human, even a slave, and gave himself over to death," even the ignominious death of the cross.
See, somehow during this week, now, if we do what was proclaimed to us in the first lesson today, where Isaiah talks about the servant who has been taught by God to speak as a disciple, to live as a disciple. And how does he do it? "Morning after morning, God wakes me up to hear, to listen, like a disciple." To listen to what Jesus says -- not only to his words, but also how he acts.
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And if we do listen deeply, we will begin to understand, I think, and certainly would be very challenged by what is probably the most difficult teaching of Jesus in all of the Gospels: "You have heard that it was said of old: love your neighbor, hate your enemy. I say to you, love your enemy, do good to those who hurt you, return good for evil."
See, what Jesus shows us, starting with that event that we celebrate at the very beginning with the palms, what Jesus shows us is that there is a very special, in some ways perhaps unique, way of trying to overcome evil, overcome violence, bring peace and fullness of life into our human family. And he demonstrates that in his action when he's coming into Jerusalem. It's the beginning of the last week of his life, and a big crowd is following him. And they begin to acclaim Jesus as the savior, the one who has come to save them, but they're thinking in terms of overcoming the Roman Empire.
See, they were occupied; they hated. They wanted to get rid of those Roman soldiers, become free once more, and they want to do it through weapons, through arms, and so they're acclaiming Jesus. They're thinking, "Here is our king. He's the one that's going to restore the kingdom of Israel," like under David, the great warrior king in their history. And so as he's coming into Jerusalem, Jesus does something very extraordinary. He sends his disciples to go get an animal for him to ride in.
Now, if he were coming in as a warrior, would he not come in on a war horse, with weapons and with troops behind him? He does something that's almost absurd. He said, "There's a colt, a tiny ass, and I will ride into Jerusalem on that." And both in John's Gospel and Matthew's Gospel, they point out what Jesus was demonstrating because they highlight the fact that Jesus is fulfilling a passage from the book of the Prophet Zechariah, where the prophet proclaimed, "Rejoice greatly, daughter of Zion. Shout for joy, daughter of Jerusalem, for your king is coming, just and victorious, humble, and riding on a donkey."
And then the prophet goes on to say, "No more chariots in Ephraim. No more horses in Jerusalem, for he will do away with them. The warrior's bow shall be broken when the savior brings peace to the nations." See, the prophet was proclaiming that God overcomes evil and violence, killing and war, not by responding in the same way, but by giving up violence; by not trying to dominate, by loving and only loving in response to your enemy. Love your enemy.
And Jesus continues to demonstrate that through this whole week. If we listen carefully to the Scriptures this week, we will see on Holy Thursday night when, after the supper, Jesus goes out into the garden to pray, and then the crowds come, led by Judas to arrest him. Judas, the one who had been his friend. And Jesus says to Judas when they come, "Friend, why have you come?" Why have you come? He calls him friend. He's trying to win Judas back by reaching out in love to him, but at that point, Judas doesn't [want to] be healed; he rejects Jesus.
But at least Jesus is showing us that he reaches out to his betrayer, still calls him friend, still reaches out in love. Later on with Peter, who, as we heard in the Gospel, denied Jesus three times: "I don't know him!" Imagine a friend, someone very close to you saying, "I have nothing to do with him. I want nothing to do with him. He's nobody to me."
And what did Jesus do? Well, in Luke's Gospel, you'll find Jesus later on during that long night, at one point Peter and Jesus are across from each other in the hall, and Luke says, "Jesus looked at Peter." See, and it was a look of love, of course, a look of forgiveness. And Peter went out and wept bitterly. You see, Jesus returns love for hate, gentleness for violence, and he's showing us the way. And ultimately, he gives his whole life. He's nailed to the cross. He is tortured for hours and finally dies.
But as he promised in John's Gospel, "I, when I am lifted up" on the cross, "I will draw all people to myself" through the way of love. See, not domination, not power, not force, not violence, only love. That's the message of Jesus, and somehow, we have to absorb that message and bring it into our own lives so that we can become people of gentleness, forgiveness, and love -- even of our enemies.
And you know, this week -- today, tomorrow, Monday, Tuesday, the end of this month -- our government has been trying to show a way of diplomacy in the world to avoid war by negotiating with Iran. You must know about that. And negotiation so that they will not continue to develop nuclear weapons, to try to be sure that there's not one more nation armed with nuclear weapons in the world. Now some people say, "It's not going to work; you must destroy them." And if we don't get this treaty, there probably will be war just trying to destroy the weapons that Iran definitely, at that point, will develop.
Think about it. What would be the way of Jesus? The way of diplomacy? The way of trying to reach out, trying to understand? Trying to love even your enemy? Or would Jesus choose the war horse and go to war? So it's very important that we learn this message of Jesus -- on a huge issue like that that can threaten our very planet, but also in our everyday lives. There may be some decision in family, your neighborhood, just like Paul writing to Philippi.
Reach out, learn how to heal, bring people together. Be people who reach out in forgiveness like Jesus: "Friend, why have you come?" In everyday lives, in families and our communities, it's so important we try to listen as a disciple does, and hear God speaking through Jesus, through his words and through his actions. And then, "if you want to be my disciple, take up your cross and follow me. Live according to my way, my teachings."
[Homily given at St. Philomena Catholic Church in Detroit. 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.]