The overarching message of the Gospels: God loves us, and God loves us first

Editor's note: This homily was given at the 125th anniversary celebration of Our Lady of the Rosary Catholic Church in Detroit.

As we begin our reflection on the Scripture lessons this morning, I think it might be very important for us to remember that we are the successors to the people of Israel and Judah. We are now the people of God, even as the Jewish people continue to be in covenant with God and are God's people. And so these parables which were first spoken, the passage that was first spoken by the prophet Isaiah 800 years or 700 years before Jesus came, and now 2,000 years later, these parables apply to us, the people of God.

Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
Isaiah 5:1-7
Psalms 80:9, 12, 13-14, 15-16, 19-20
Philippians 4:6-9
Matthew 21:33-43
Full text of the readings

And to help us in our reflection, I thought I might suggest that we ask ourselves a question: If you were asked by someone, "How would you sum up the Gospel?" Now, Gospel means good news. How would you sum up the Gospel message of Jesus in just one or two sentences? Everything that Jesus said, did, taught, how would you sum that up?

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Well, there is, I think, a rather easy way to do that because John, in the first letter he wrote to the early Christian community, does that very thing. In Chapter 4 of his first letter, John tells us, "My dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves is born of God and knows God, for God is love. And this is love: not that we love God, but that God first loved us when God sent Jesus to be one of us. Whoever lives in love, lives in God, and God lives in them."

That's the Gospel message: God loves us. God loves us, and God loves us first. God loves us, and it's an unconditional love, an unlimited love, a love so immense that God sends God's very son to be one of us. And what does God expect in return? That we love God and love one another. Now, if you listen to these lessons, isn't that what Isaiah is teaching in that first lesson today, how God takes the initiative?

God begins to develop this vineyard, and God loved that vineyard. "My beloved had a vineyard on a fertile hillside. He dug it up, cleared the stones, planted the choicest vines, built a watchtower; hewed out a winepress, as well." God took the initiative. God is a God of love who loves us, and Isaiah goes on to say, "The vineyard of God is the people of Israel and the people of Judah."

But then in the Gospel lesson, that's what Jesus is teaching -- the same thing in his parable about the land owner -- and Matthew uses almost the same words as Isaiah did -- a land owner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a hole for the winepress, built a watchtower. But then here, it's different: [He] leased it to tenants. But God took the initiative; God calls the people to be God's own people.

And what does God expect in return? God expects us to love God and to love one another. That's all. God loves us without limit, without condition, and God wants us to so experience that love that it overflows in us and we reach out in love to one another, to all people, to everyone, without condition, without limit. But what happened? In Isaiah, we're told by the prophet that God looked for justice and love, for righteousness, but found violence and bloodshed and heard cries of distress. The people were not loving one another, acting with justice toward one another, and so they began to fall away from God.

And isn't that the same thing in the Gospel lesson? Jesus, in telling that parable, expects that those tenants will respond in love just because God has loved them so much. But instead, what happens? They turn away from God. They turn to violence; they turn to greed. And even when God goes beyond every limit and sends God's only son to receive what God has a right to, they kill the son. Clearly, it's Jesus. They reached out to kill Jesus, God's final messenger.

And yet the truth is, and in spite of all of that, God still loves us. That's the message of the Gospel. God's love is never limited, it never ends, it's always there. God is waiting to be gracious to us. Like the father in the parable, God is rushing out to meet us with God's love. And so perhaps today, as we listen to this message from Isaiah and from Matthew, and we begin to understand more deeply how God's love is the love that comes to us first, and asks us to respond, perhaps it is time for us to review how we are responding.

The problem with the scribes and the Pharisees, as Jesus points out so often, is that they began to think they earned God's love by obeying the law -- the written law, the 613 commandments of the Torah. They thought they were earning God's love, but that's so wrong. Sometimes we think the same thing, that we can earn God's love, but we can't. God's love is total gift, and it's always there. And if we began to experience that and respond to that, we'll burst out with love for one another.

In the first lesson, Isaiah reminds us that how the people failed was that they turned to violence and they turned to injustice, and the same thing was happening in the parable in the Gospel: violence, injustice. Now, we're the people of God today. What's happening in our midst? We live in a country where fewer and fewer people have more and more of the country's wealth, and the majority of the people are getting poorer and poorer. There's gross inequality because we live in a system that promotes greed, and we fall into that pattern like the chosen people in the time of Isaiah.

And violence; we seem to be almost addicted to violence. It's everywhere in our culture, in our homes, in our communities, on our streets. As a country, we've been at war since 1991, and we continue to think that somehow, violence and war is going to bring peace. They can't; [they] will only bring more violence, more hatred.

Isn't it time that we began to listen deeply to this message that God is proclaiming to us? We have to give up violence. We have to refuse to wage war, support war in any way. We have to begin to let that experience of God's love overflow in us and reach out in love to one another, to every person.

In our second lesson today, St. Paul urges us: "Finally, brothers and sisters, fill your minds with whatever is truthful, whatever is holy, just, loving, and noble. Be mindful of whatever deserves praise and admiration. Put into practice what you have learned from me, what I learned from Jesus. To do all of this, the God of peace will be with you." But I suggest that maybe going beyond St. Paul where he speaks almost in kind of abstractions -- do the good, all that.

Pope Francis -- I think all of us recognize how he gets very practical, very real. A year ago, when he went to the World Youth Day in [Brazil], the first trip he took outside of Rome after he had been pope, he spoke to these hundreds of thousands of young people, and he told them, "If you're looking for an action plan," see, get very practical, "you're looking for an action plan, you should read Chapter 5 of St. Matthew's Gospel, the beatitudes, and Chapter 25, the parable about the last judgment."

There's your plan of action. It's our plan of action if we really want to respond to God's love: Blessed are the poor in spirit, willing to share what they have to with all others that none must hold everything to ourselves, but we share. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice. Blessed are the peacemakers. This is a program for action.

Or in Matthew 25: "When I was hungry, you gave me to eat. When I was thirsty, you gave me to drink. When I was naked, you clothed me. When I was in jail, you visited me. When I was sick, you came to treat me." "When?" "Whenever you did it to one of the least of my brothers and sisters, you did it to me." That's our program of action.

For 125 years, this parish community has been here, trying to carry out that program of action in response to the love that God pours forth, that has called us into being as individuals and as a community. And today, as we celebrate those 125 years of the past of this community, it's time for us to renew our commitment to respond to God -- not out of duty, not obeying a law, but only responding to God's love, which is unlimited, unconditional, by loving God with our whole heart and mind and soul, our whole being, and then truly loving our neighbor as ourselves.

Matthew 5, Matthew 25 -- that's our program of action. And that's what will make the reign of God happen in our world, bring God's justice, love, and peace into our lives, into our communities, and into our world. Take that program of action and live it.

[Homily given at Our Lady of the Rosary Catholic Church's 125th anniversary celebration in Detroit. 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.]

Bishop Gumbleton's homily for Oct. 5, 2014

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