I'm sure we're all aware that the word "gospel" means "good news." In the beginning of Mark's Gospel, it's very simple. The introduction of Mark simply says, "Jesus began to proclaim the good news." The good news -- the reign of God is at hand -- what does that mean? It means the love of God is ready to overwhelm all of creation and transform it into that glorious reign of God where peace and joy, fullness of life is there for everyone. That good news emanates from God's love.
That's what these lessons teach us today about the love of God. That's the good news: God loves us with a love that's unbreakable, unconditional, unlimited. In the first letter of John, the disciple writes, "God is love. Where there is love, there is God." And then goes on to say, "And this is the love that I mean: that God first loved us." God never stops loving us. God's love drew us into existence. We would not be, would not exist if God's love hadn't drawn us into existence.
Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Every instant that we exist, it's God's love that is supporting us in our being, in our existence. Jesus, as you know, proclaimed those words 2,000 years ago about God's love and then showed us God's love. Jesus is the visible image of the invisible God. Love -- that's who Jesus is. But somewhere along the line, we seem to have lost it. Today's lesson does help us if we listen deeply. It helps us to come to understand again, if we had once and have forgotten, or maybe for the first time, that the good news is about God and God's love.
We hear it in the first lesson where the Chosen People had fallen away from the covenant. "I am the Lord your God … There shall be no other gods before me … You shall worship the Lord your God with your whole heart, with your whole mind, and whole soul." That's the covenant and they broke it. As we hear, they began to worship an idol. God is pictured as being angry, ready to destroy them, but Moses intervenes and reminds God of God's promise of making Abraham and Sarah the beginning of a whole new people with a covenant that will last forever.
Moses pleads with God and God relents. It's not quite the full picture of God's love that we come to know in Jesus, but it's a beginning. There are places in the Hebrew Scriptures where God is also shown as a God who never stops loving. As I mentioned before, one of my favorite passages is in the book of the prophet Isaiah where after the people have fallen away and have sinned, the prophet simply says, "God is waiting to be gracious to you." Turn toward God; God is there waiting to be gracious to you.
Isn't that the message that Jesus proclaims in the Gospel? God is not only waiting to be gracious, in the Gospel parable that Jesus tells, Jesus explains how God is reaching out, going to find us when we're lost, searching for us to bring us back. There's the shepherd with 100 sheep. Ninety-nine are safe and one is lost; that's the one he has to get. The shepherd goes and finds that sheep. Of course, then it's time for a celebration. Or the woman with the lost coin sweeping the house, looking everywhere until she finds it, then she celebrates. God is searching.
But it's most powerful in the third parable of today, the one we call "The Parable of the Prodigal Son," but it's also the parable of the elder son. There are two sons involved and both teach us very importantly. The younger son, in that part of the story, Jesus teaches us how God is looking for us, going out to find us because God's love never stops -- never, never stops. God's love is always searching for us. The father was out there every day looking for that son, waiting for the son to come back.
When he sees his son far off, he runs to greet him, then he celebrates, "My son who was lost, who was dead, has come back; we must celebrate." This is God going out to search, to find us. But we have a hard time, it seems, believing in that love of God because somehow we have come to be more like the elder son. Notice what he says about himself, "I have slaved every day. I merit your party; I earned it. You never gave it to me."
That's not the relationship that God intends between God and us -- not a relationship of a slave working for a master, trying to perform every duty perfectly and wanting credit for what we have done. No, our relationship with God is based on the fact that God first loved us. Once we begin to experience that, to understand deep in our own hearts and spirit that God loves me; God drew me into existence out of love; God supports me with God's love every minute of every day; and every second I exist, God's love is there.
If I'm hurting myself by not living up to the way of God and God's love, God is there looking for me, trying to draw me back. The elder son just could not understand that. He somehow had the impression, "I did it; I earned your love." No, love is not something you earn. There's a passage in the Book of Wisdom about a true friend, "A true friend is a treasure beyond price." Even in our own relationships, you can't buy love; you can't buy friendship.
There has to be a relationship of give and take that includes affection and an emotional attachment that is a very clear giving of oneself to another and receiving that love from another. That's the way it is between us and God. God has first loved us, given us God's love, drawing us into existence and always loves us no matter how badly we fail. This is the good news and it's so important that we hear this good news and that we begin to live with the good news as the basis of our lives, that in our relationship with God, we understand God loves us and our only response is to be thankful and to love God in return.
But then that has to go beyond my relationship with God and God's relationship to me. God taught, even in the Hebrew Scriptures, in the old covenant, the first commandment, "Love the Lord your God with your whole heart, mind, and soul, then love your neighbor as yourself." Once we begin to live this good news of the Gospel about God's love for us and once we experience that love, it begins to overflow from within us and we reach out in love to our brothers and sisters and receive love from our brothers and sisters.
Isn't that a message that could transform our world and how badly we need that message. There's so much violence, so much hatred, so much killing. I was just reading again (it comes up often in the news) about the tragedy in Syria. Five hundred thousand people in this tiny country have been killed in the five years of war that have gone on there in which we have participated. Over two million have had to flee the country, refugees trying to find a place somewhere in the world where they can find a way to live.
That's only one small place in the world where there's so much violence. Within our own country, in our own cities -- everywhere, anywhere, there's violence and killing and hatred. With our presidential campaign, the nastiness, I guess I could say, or maybe it's worse than nastiness; there's almost a spirit of antagonism and close to hatred, that's building up that way. Instead of searching for a way to solve our problems together, we become adversaries attacking one another through our political parties. It influences the whole atmosphere of our life. So there's violence; there's just a lack of love. Somehow we have to overcome that violence, that spirit of hatred.
Dr. Martin Luther King, in a book he wrote in 1967 called Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? says, "The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. So it goes. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. You may feel activated by the cause of righteousness, but violence is most often a poor instrument for its implementation. Indeed, violence corrodes righteousness. It robs it of its essence."
Isn't it clear, the only way to change what is happening in our world from within our families, our communities, our cities, and our country, within the community of nations -- the only way to change is to begin to live the way of love. God first loved us, God always loves us, and we are to respond with love for God. Then that love expands to all of our brothers and sisters. Yes, the reign of God is at hand ready to break forth, and it will happen as each one of us hears that good news and then lives according to the good news, the way of love.
[Homily given at St. Charles Lwanga Parish, St. Leo site, 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.]