As we listen to the Scriptures today, we should experience a sense of great joy and hopefulness. In that first lesson, for example, Isaiah is almost overwhelmed with joy and calls on Jerusalem to be filled with joy, "Rejoice for Jerusalem and be glad all you who love her." What he's talking about is where there has been nothing but destruction and evil and suffering, Jerusalem is being rebuilt. The exiles are coming back -- those who have been forced into terrible suffering of exile, leaving their homes and everything behind, are now coming back; God is restoring them. So the prophet urges them to be filled with joy.
As I mentioned in introducing this reading, it's very important to hear how the prophet describes God. It's something that we don't hear very often, but we should. First of all, when he's talking about Jerusalem, he talks about Jerusalem as a woman, "Rejoice with her, all who were filled with grief over her." This is what Yahweh says, 'I will send her peace overflowing like a river; and the nations' wealth, rushing like torrents toward her.'"
Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
But then, he switches the image from Jerusalem to God, "For this is what God says, 'As a son comforted by his mother, so will I (God) comfort you, Jerusalem. At the sight of this, your heart will rejoice; you will flourish.'" We don't often hear God described as a mother, as a woman. But that image of God is as appropriate as God is father, which we are so used to. We ought to let that sink in because we struggle in our society and throughout the world with full equality for women.
Part of the reason is that we've always taken for granted that God is male, God is father, but have never given full credence and understanding that God is mother, God is woman. That's a beautiful image for God if we take time to reflect on it. The more we experience God as our mother and let that mother-love fill us, the more we will experience the joy that the prophet is speaking about, the joy of a mother's love filling us and that is God.
St. Paul in the second lesson today also speaks to us about joy, and says as he closes his letter to the church in Galatia how he is filled with joy, but also he's speaking a word of satisfaction, in a sense, that he has preached the Gospel well. But then he reminds them, "I only want to boast in one thing: The cross of Christ Jesus our Lord. I do not want to take pride in anything else except in that cross of Jesus." That might seem strange because the cross is such a terrible, unspeakable evil done to Jesus.
But also (and here's where it connects, in fact, with the first reading), the cross was the most profound pouring forth of God's love upon us and upon all people. It was God loving us on the cross, God forgiving us on the cross. That's what Paul is rejoicing in, that the love of God is without limit, it's without condition, and it's there for all of us. Paul says, "That's what I preach, that's what I boast in -- that I've experienced that love of God and I have, through the preaching, shared it with you."
We, too, experience God's love being poured forth upon us and upon our world -- God as mother, God as father, God forgiving, God loving even those who are putting him to death -- unbounded, unlimited love. Paul says, "That's what I'm rejoicing in." That's what we, too, can rejoice in on this beautiful summer day as we gather together to celebrate God's love. But then if we listen to the Gospel lesson, we're reminded that we don't receive this gift of God's love, we're not drawn into God's family simply for ourselves. We're the 72 being sent out.
You remember Jesus had previously sent the apostles, the twelve, on a missionary journey. But now Luke in his Gospel (it's the only one that does this), speaks about 72 disciples. Scripture scholars suggest that this is probably Luke referring to the tenth chapter of Genesis where there are 72 nations in the whole world. So it's Jesus sending out his disciples into the world to do what? To proclaim that good news -- God loves us, God will never stop loving us, God forgives us, and the more we can experience that and let it overflow in our spirits, the better disciples we will be. Luke gives some directions on how to be a disciple: Travel lightly, don't carry a lot with you, don't just stay in one for place a long time, keep moving spreading the message, travel without walking sticks or sandals -- just go and carry the message. That's what we're called to do.
But as we gather on this Sunday, on the holiday of our great secular feast day of our independence, we also, I think, not only rejoice in the love of God in sending Jesus, proclaiming his Word in our midst, but also in the blessings that God has given to us as a people, our blessings of abundance, that we have so much, our blessings of peace. We haven't had war on our land since our own Civil War. The blessing of the freedom that we have -- all the good things that we have as a people, we rejoice in that and thank God. This is how God has poured forth God's love on us; it's one of the ways. There are many ways in our personal, individual lives where we can think about how God has blessed us and loved us.
But then like those first disciples, God has also given us a mission: Let other people know that the reign of God is at hand, that the reign of God's love is here and that God wants to transform our world into God's kingdom, God's reign, where there'll be peace and fullness of life for everybody. We have to begin to think about how, as an individual, we can share that love within our families. Maybe there's a need for reconciliation, for forgiveness in some part of our family life, and in our community where we can bring more harmony and peace into our neighborhoods, into our nation, and in our world where we can help to lead the way toward peace in the world, give up war.
Just recently, Pope Francis has called together in Rome a group of people under the auspices of his office for peace and justice to discuss the question: Is war even possible within the framework of the teachings of Jesus, or do we really have to be converted to what seems to be the true message of Jesus: No to war, only peace, forgiveness, and love -- that's the message. Pope Francis authorized this group to discuss the question, reject war totally, and reject violence.
As a result, they've come up with a document that Pope Francis will work on and perhaps publish an encyclical letter, giving us direction in our world to make true peace happen, to make the love of Jesus spread everywhere, to end war and violence and hatred. Each of us can do our small part if we take the time to reflect on where I can bring that peace that Jesus said, "When you go into a home bring peace upon that home," -- shalom, fullness of life and joy.
We can do that in our everyday life. But also in this time when we are about to elect leaders for our nation, we pray and try to understand how we can bring about the best policies for our nations and who would do that for us. We have to take this seriously so that as our nation, as we celebrate tomorrow, celebrate the gifts that we have, we continue to build on that, and we continue to try to be a people who are committed to carrying out the message of Jesus, the message of love, forgiveness, and peace. It's not an easy task to be a disciple of Jesus, to be among those called to go out and preach the good news, but we have accepted that task. Today we pray that we may do it in a way that will truly bring about what Jesus first proclaimed, "The reign of God is at hand coming into its fullness," and we will help Jesus to make that happen.
[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.]