Like Malala, we need to reach out and enter the kingdom of God

You are aware, I'm sure, of the Nobel Peace Prize that was awarded this past Friday. It was a joint award, two people got it, but most extraordinary, part of it, is the teenage girl from Pakistan -- 17 years old, the youngest Nobel laureate since the prize began to be given out in 1901. The paper wrote about her, and the article that I read, it started with, "Who is Malala [Yousafzai]?" And some of us may wonder that, but in this instance, it wasn't just trying to find out, out of curiosity, who Malala is.

Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Isaiah 25:6-10a
Psalms 23:1-3a, 3b-4, 5, 6
Philippians 4:12-14, 19-20
Matthew 22:1-14
Full text of the readings

These were Taliban killers who came on the crowded bus in northwestern Pakistan two years ago, and when they found out who Malala was, which of the kids [were] being taken to school, they shot her, put a bullet into her head. Malala had been speaking out as an impassioned advocate for the education of girls. She was determined that she herself would get an education, and she found it evil, unjust, that in that country, there was this extremist group, the Taliban, who were trying to prevent girls from being educated.

As you may remember, she survived. She was taken to England to get out of danger and to get the best medical care, and the doctors were able to save her life. They placed a titanium plate in her head and now, two years later, she is back in school and has, over the time since that incident and since her recovery, continued her advocacy. She has met with President [Barack] Obama, with the queen of England, and even addressed the United Nations. Now she's the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.

And part of her amazing work has been her resistance and speaking out against the terrible conflict in Syria, Iraq, and elsewhere. The head of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, said about her: "With her courage and determination, Malala has shown what terrorists fear most: a young girl with a book." When she spoke to President Obama, she urged him to stop sending drones dropping bombs over her country and other countries in the Middle East -- the bombs that destroy women and children as we attempt to take out someone we have determined is against us, our enemy.

She became even a national news media figure, speaking over and over again about the need for peace, and that is why she ultimately was threatened and the attempt to kill her was made. When she received the prize, she said, "This award is for all those children who are voiceless, whose voices need to be heard. I speak for them and I stand up for them."

Now, you may wonder how this connects with today's Scriptures. But I think there's a very powerful connection, if we take a few moments now to reflect on the Scriptures of today, but connecting them with those of the past. Jesus is speaking to the religious leaders and to us about the reign of God, called the kingdom of heaven most of the time in Matthew's Gospel. But it isn't, and that sort of misleads us about what Jesus is talking -- what he's talking about, because we then think of the kingdom of heaven as a place, something that comes at the end time.

But at the very beginning of his public life, Jesus said, "The reign of God is at hand," and the kingdom of heaven is what he means by the reign of God. It's at hand, ready to break forth now. We can enter into it now. What does that mean, the reign of God? Well, Scripture scholars speak about it as the dynamic ruling or rule of God's saving love. It's God's love throughout all of creation, and that is the guiding force behind creation. And the invitation is to enter into this dynamic rule of God's love, bring ourselves into line with the love of God that is being poured forth upon all of creation, upon us.

Or it's also described as the community of human persons embracing God's love, made present especially in Jesus. So when we embrace and try to follow the way of love shown to us in Jesus, we're entering into the reign of God. And the first lesson today gives us a sense of what the reign of God is as it's happening in what will eventually be this culmination of the reign of God.

Isaiah says, "On this mountain, Yahweh ... will prepare for all peoples a feast of rich food, choice wines. On this mountain, God will destroy the pall cast over all peoples, this very shroud spread over all nations, and death will be no more. God will wipe away the tears from all cheeks and eyes. God will take away the humiliation of God's people. On that day, you will say, 'This is our God. We have waited for God to save us. Let us be glad and rejoice in God's saving love.' For on this mountain, the loving hand of God rests."

It's an image of the fullness of creation as God continues to bring that creation into fuller development, and it's the reality is a fullness of life for all of creation, for every creature. Joy, love, peace -- everything that makes us fully human, energizes us, fills us with goodness and love. This is the reign of God, and Jesus has been preaching this throughout his life. And now it seems, in a way, that urgently he's inviting us to enter into the reign of God.

In the Gospel today, he describes it as his wedding feast, but notice what happens. There are those who have been invited, and we can easily think of the chosen people, of ourselves, that have this special invitation to enter into the reign of God. And as we do that, we join in God's work of transforming our world into that fullness of God's reign. And we might think that because we're a church that has evolved from the first community of disciples of Jesus, that it's automatic -- we're going to enter into the reign of God.

But the powerful lesson that Jesus teaches those religious leaders, and teaches us, is that those who were first called, including ourselves, are like the ones in the Gospel that, when they're invited, pay no attention -- go away, some to their fields, some to their work, even seize the messengers and kill them. They reject the reign of God, even though they're the first invited.

And so then in the story, the king sends his servants out again: "Bring in everybody." Everybody is invited to the reign of God, and not just because the others have rejected it, but because that's God's intention from the beginning. All of creation will come into this fullness of God's love as we begin to place ourselves under the dynamic rule of that love.

And isn't what happened with this young woman, teenager Malala, a really good example of how this parable of Jesus is being carried out? Here is a Muslim young woman who understands that we must reject violence, that bringing education to people, especially to girls who are deprived of it. In other words, what Jesus declares in the parable about the last judgment: "Those who hunger and thirst for justice will be filled." That's actually from the Sermon on the Mount: "Those who hunger and thirst for justice will be satisfied." They will have entered into the reign of God.

The peacemakers -- they are entering into the reign of God, those who give up violence. Here we, as a nation, are still killing, preparing to and doing more bombing in the Middle East instead of finding ways through diplomacy, through sharing the gifts that we have: educational gifts, medical care. We go to war. Others are working for peace in ways that seem to follow what Jesus is asking, who are left behind.

It's a powerful thing to reflect on, and that's where the last part of today's Gospel, I think, is so important. When Jesus said, "The reign of God is at hand," he added, "Change your lives." If we really wish to begin to experience the reign of God even now, and begin to move toward a fullness of experiencing that reign of God, change your lives. Begin to follow the ways of Jesus -- the way of love, the way of justice, the way of peace.

The person that came into the feast without the festal garment could have had a garment. The practice in that culture was that, and especially when you think people were being invited immediately from the streets to come in, they provided the festal garment. Obviously, had he refused to accept one. In one of Paul's letters, he urges us, "Clothe yourself in Christ, put on Christ." In other words, change your life, follow the way of Jesus.

And I hope that, as we hear those Scriptures today and see the example of someone who in a sense came in from the highways and the byways to the reign of God, I hope we will begin to look seriously at how we do, or have tried to, change our lives, and really take seriously what I mentioned a couple weeks ago, the program that Pope Francis laid out at the first World Youth Day that he attended.

"Here is your program," he told the young people. "The Sermon on the Mount and the sermon in Matthew 25, the last judgment. There's your program. Heal the brokenhearted. Set the downtrodden free. Reach out to the poor. Work for peace. Hunger and thirst for justice. Visit those in prison. Give food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty."

In other words, share what we have. Follow the way of Jesus. That is what these Scripture lessons are urging upon us today. And surely each of us, as we begin to look at our lives, we can find ways in our personal life, in our life in our community and our parish life, in our life of our nation and in our participation in the world of nations. And as we look at that, find ways that we need to change our lives.

Malala, others like her, are reaching out, entering into the reign of God. We've been invited. I hope we respond to the invitation, and in a spirit of prayerfulness, we truly try to change our lives and put on Christ Jesus.

[Homily given at St. Philomena Catholic Church 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.]

Bishop Gumbleton's homily for Oct. 12, 2014

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