The first thing this morning I thought I would call your attention to is the fact that it was only a short time ago that we heard a reference to our first lesson today. We may not remember it, but back on Palm Sunday, when Jesus was nearing the end of his life, he was followed by a great crowd, but also he was coming up against great hostility. The crowds wanted to make him a king, thinking he could overcome the hostility with power and might, and drive out the Romans, the occupying force at the time.
Jesus never wanted to be a king in that sense. In fact, at one point when they tried to make him a king, he went into hiding so that they couldn't do it.
But this time Jesus does something different. He makes an image of what it means for him to be a ruler or a king. It turns the whole idea of kingship, as we understand it, upside down, because of what Jesus does. As you remember, on Palm Sunday when the crowds are gathering, they're marching into Jerusalem, and Jesus is coming with them, and they're calling out for him to be a king.
Jesus tells his disciples, "Go to the village in front of you. There you will find a donkey tied up with its colt by her. Untie them; bring them to me. This happened in fulfillment of what the prophet said: 'Say to the daughter of Zion, see your king comes to you in all simplicity riding on a donkey, a beast of burden with its colt.'"
What Jesus was doing was dramatizing, in a very powerful way, the message of our first lesson today. Yes, they wanted him to be a king, but he would only be the kind of king that Zechariah had spoken of in our first lesson: "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, on a colt ..."
Ordinarily, a king would be coming in with his troops, riding on a warhorse, coming to use force to have his way. Instead, Zechariah said, "No more chariots in Ephraim, no more horses in Jerusalem, for this king will do away with them. The warrior's bow shall be broken when he dictates peace to the nations. This king will reign from sea to sea, and from the river to the ends of the earth."
So Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey, unarmed, humble, riding what poor people would ride, not a warhorse.
Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
In Zechariah's picture of the event from hundreds of years before, the king says, "No warhorses, no more chariots, no more war." That's what Jesus was trying to teach his disciples on that Palm Sunday morning — that he is a king, but a king who rules not by force, not by violence, not by war, but by peace, forgiveness, and love. Only these are of Christ.
Isn't it amazing how timely it is that we have this prophecy of Zechariah on this Sunday when we have our leaders talking about the necessity to go to war, that we will not take war off the agenda?
If North Korea is going to develop nuclear weapons, we will do whatever we need to do to stop them, and war is part of what's in the forecast. It seems so strange that 2,000 years after Jesus, when his message has been proclaimed throughout the world, we are still acting as though we've never heard that message.
I agree, it's a difficult message to hear. You might remember the incident in Matthew's Gospel when Jesus, for the first time, told his disciples what was to happen to him.
He was on his way to Jerusalem at that point and Matthew tells us: "From that day, Jesus began to make clear to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem, that he would suffer many things from the Jewish authorities, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he would be killed, but raised on the third day."
Here's the really important thing: Peter intervenes and began to reproach Jesus: "Never, Lord! No, this must never happen to you." You can just see Peter saying, "That's impossible. You've got all these people following you. We can save you. We can use our force to overcome your enemies."
But do you remember what Jesus did when Peter objected to the way Jesus was choosing to act? Jesus turned to Peter and said: "Get behind me, you Satan!"
Imagine! The one we now think of as the leader of the apostles being called a Satan because he was not listening to Jesus. He was thinking not as God does, but as people do.
Then Jesus gave instruction to all the disciples: "If you want to follow me, deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me. You have to follow the way that I lead."
Jesus taught us how, in every part of his agony, his suffering, his torture and death, Jesus was reaching out in love to those who were putting him to death. He had said in the Sermon on the Mount: "You have heard it was said of old, 'Thou shall not kill.' ... But I say you must not even be angry with your enemy."
He goes on to say, "If someone has offended you, then the first thing to do, even if you're going to offer your gift at the altar, is leave your gift. Go first and be reconciled, and then come and offer your gift."
Jesus was so clear that he rejected violence for any reason whatsoever.
Now we somehow have neglected this teaching of Jesus over the centuries. In the very beginning, Christians understood. They would not go to war; they would not fight in Caesar's armies. War was something that Christians would not engage in. They would find other ways to transform the world, to overcome hatreds and evils and violence through peace, forgiveness and love. But we have failed so far. Why is it that we won't really listen to Jesus?
I puzzle over this very much because it is so clear in the Scriptures what Jesus said, but down through the centuries we find ways to justify our use of violence. Perhaps what we've neglected is what St. Paul is talking about in our second lesson today, where he's comparing our kind of twofold being: We are body and spirit and we're one person, but we act sometimes more in a physical way than we do in a spiritual way.
Paul is talking about living life through the Spirit: "Those living according to the body tend toward what is physical. Those led by the Spirit to what is Spirit."
He goes on to say, "If you did not have the Spirit of Christ, you would not belong to him, but Christ is within you." Through baptism, we're alive with the Spirit of Jesus. "Though the body is branded by death as a consequence of sin, the Spirit is life and holiness. If the Spirit of God who raised Jesus from the dead is within you, the one who raised Jesus Christ from among the dead will also give life to you. Yes, God will do it through God's Spirit who dwells within you."
It's that Spirit of Jesus within us that can transform our mind and our heart and our actions. Only we must turn to that Spirit, listen to God speaking to us deep within our hearts, trying to be in touch with the Jesus who rejected violence and hatred and killing and war, and who always followed the ways of peace, forgiveness and love. That's the only way we can transform our world.
If we're going to resort to war and violence again, or continue as we have been for years now, everything will only become more violent, more killing until who knows what will happen if we began to use the nuclear weapons that our president says, "Why do we have them if we don't use them?"
Somehow, I hope within our Christian community that we can begin to listen to the Spirit of Jesus living within each one of us, come to know Jesus more deeply, to understand his ways, and to learn how to follow him. We're at a very important time in human history where the very existence of our planet is at risk. We can destroy it through our neglect of nurturing the planet or we can destroy it through weapons of mass destruction.
Somehow, the way of Jesus is what we must try to follow because that is the only way that we will find ultimately the fulfillment of the reign of God, which will mean peace and fullness of life for everyone. As we celebrate this Eucharist, I pray that each of us will try to enter into the quiet of our heart, hear the Spirit of God speaking to us, guiding us how to follow Jesus into the way of peace.
[Homily given June 18 at Holy Trinity Parish in Detroit. The transcripts of Bishop Thomas Gumbleton's homilies are posted weekly to NCRonline.org. Sign up here to receive an email alert when the latest homily is posted.]