I almost feel like apologizing for the Scripture lessons today. On this beautiful day when we would like to be out recreating, God is challenging us to the hardest part of the Gospel of Jesus. That's what the Gospel is and we have to try to listen. But notice first how you can tell that for Jesus, this is a very solemn, important moment because Luke says that before he calls the disciples together to ask them that question about himself, he goes apart to pray.
Jesus knows that he's at a turning point in his life and with his followers, so he spends time in prayer. It's notable, especially in Luke's Gospel that every time Jesus reaches a major point in his life, he goes apart to pray. That's something that perhaps more than anything else we can take from the Scriptures today, that like Jesus, at times when we're challenged, we go apart and pray, seek God's direction, God's help.
Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time
That question -- who do you say that I am? We've heard this Gospel before and it's recorded in Mark and Matthew also, so we have heard it many times, actually. But how often do we really stop and say, "Who do I say Jesus is? Am I ready to proclaim you are the Christ, the Son of the living God and that I want to follow you because you are the Son of God?" Those first disciples did see who Jesus was and said they wanted to follow him.
But then if you turn to Matthew's Gospel, the whole thing changes slightly because in Matthew, after Jesus had said this and then he began to make clear to his disciples, Matthew says, "He must go to Jerusalem, suffer many things, be handed over to the priests and the teachers of the law and be killed." What happens? Peter, who had made that declaration, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God," says to Jesus, "No."
Peter took him aside and began to reproach him, "Never, Lord. No, this must never happen to you." What's Peter thinking of? He, like the other disciples, I'm sure, have seen Jesus preach and teach, heal and minister, and they just can't believe that he would allow himself to be handed over to enemies and be tortured and put to death. Peter, in effect, is saying, "No, it doesn't have to be that way. Look at the crowds following you. You can take this group of people wherever you want and lead them any way you want."
Peter is thinking, as the other disciples, "We can overthrow the Roman authorities. You don't have to be put to death like that." But then Jesus turns to Peter and says, "Get behind me, you Satan." That's a harsh statement. Jesus has just praised Peter because he recognized who he was. Now he calls him "Satan" because, as Jesus says, "You are an obstacle in my path. You were thinking not as God does but as people do," like most of us probably, like Peter. Who really accepts readily, easily or perhaps even finally, the reality that Jesus says, "No, I'm not going to wage war. I'm not going to return violence for violence. I will let myself be handed over to my enemies and in spite of what they do to me, I will love them."
That's what in the first lesson today Zachariah is talking about. You remember in John's Gospel, the Passion, the soldier pierces the side of Jesus with the sword and it's fulfilled. They look upon the one they have pierced, but the one who is pouring forth love in response to hatred and violence and killing -- only love. That's what Jesus was called to do himself and calls us, his disciples [to do.] When we begin to realize this and let it sink in, we realize it's a challenge to say yes to Jesus, to say, "I want to follow him, take up my cross every day and follow him."
It wasn't easy for Peter and the other disciples. It wasn't even easy for the first Christians. In Paul's letter to the church at Corinth, Paul remarks to them how "Here am I preaching of crucified Christ. Imagine, I have to preach of crucified Christ, one who was tortured and put to death, hated, but then only loved in response." But Paul says, "To the Jews it's a scandal. They can't believe a God who would allow himself to be tortured, put to death. It's a scandal; it's a stumbling block."
Paul says to the Greeks, the so-called wise people, "It's nothing but foolishness." Who would ever see that as a way to transform the world? No, you have to have might and power and violence and killing and you use your power over others. That's how you change things. That's what comes through in our culture so much. It's been so much a part of human history. But Jesus brought a different way. Paul says in that passage to the church at Corinth where the Jews found it a scandal and the Greeks found it foolishness, Paul says, "But the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength."
Yes, pouring forth love in response to hate -- that's God's foolishness, but it's so much wiser than so-called human wisdom, which would always say hate for hate, violence for violence, and killing for killing. And God's weakness ultimately is stronger than any human strength. God's weakness poured forth in love -- that's the one thing that can change our world. That's the one thing that could end violence. That's the one thing that could really help us to overcome the kinds of things that happened last Saturday during the night, that terrible massacre. So many people respond with hatred, but it won't make things better. Only the way of Jesus will make things better.
Do you remember back when Pope Francis was here and he spoke before the U.S. Congress? He named four people, three of whom were Catholics, for us to look up to: Thomas Merton, a monk, but who wrote and preached the nonviolence of Jesus; Dorothy Day, the founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, who also was one committed to only responding to hatred with love, to violence with nonviolence; and Martin Luther King, Jr., who gave his life loving in response to violence and hatred.
More recently, I was reminded because I saw an article in a magazine about Archbishop Oscar Romero, who a year or two ago, Francis beatified, declared to be a saint. I remember an article I read about him that recounted an interview he had with a newspaper reporter two weeks before he was killed. This, I think, really shows us and is a model for us, or one of the models. There are many who reject violence.
Archbishop Romero was challenged by the reporter, "Why don't you leave El Salvador (where he's the archbishop)? Because your name is on the death list. They are going to kill you." When your name appeared on the death list at that time, that's what happened. But Oscar Romero said, "No. I've often been threatened with death, but I do not believe in death without resurrection. Even if they killed me, I will rise again in the Salvadoran people."
He had that strong faith in the resurrection of Jesus and our resurrection, "I will rise again." Then he said, "As a shepherd, I am obliged by divine mandate to give my life for those I love." Do you know whom he named? "That is, for those who may be going to kill me." The first ones he names that he gives his life -- for those I love, the ones who kill me. Then he finally said to the reporter, "And even now you may tell them if indeed they do kill me, I, right now, forgive and bless those who do it." That's an extraordinary example of what Jesus is calling us to in today's Gospel.
It takes tremendous, profound conversion for anyone of us to begin to move in this way of Jesus. But again, the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. If we can join Jesus in prayer, ask him to help us to understand where he's calling us, and if we as individuals and as a community, as a church, begin to really live this message of Jesus, we have a chance to transform our world to end the violence and the killing. And it's the only way. The way of Jesus can bring peace and love and goodness into our human family.
[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.]