'We are called to welcome all people'

by Thomas Gumbleton

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Now I admit that most people, when they hear this Gospel, think Jesus is a little bit hard on Martha; after all, she is doing the work. There wouldn't be a meal if she weren't out there doing all the work. Yet we're not going to dwell on that so much today. Today we're celebrating two baptisms after this Mass, so as I was reflecting on the readings, I was thinking in terms of the Sacrament of Baptism. It's always good for all of us to review that sacrament.

It's obviously the beginning of our whole journey of life with Jesus. Baptism gives us that new life that Jesus spoke about in John's Gospel. It's in his visit with Nicodemus: "Unless you are born again with water and the Holy Spirit, you do not enter the reign of God," so it's pretty essential. Yet most of the time (at least in the past), we made baptism something very important because it takes away original sin.

Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Genesis 18:1-10A
Psalms 15:2-3, 3-4, 5
Colossians 1:24-28
Luke 10:38-42
Full text of the readings

For a long time we even taught if you weren't baptized, there was no way ever to get into heaven. Some place called "limbo" was sort of a poor substitute. Well, we've moved beyond that and we really now have a much more positive idea about baptism. Baptism gives us that new life. We begin to live the very life of Jesus, the Son of God. We become his brothers and sisters, children of the same God who Jesus addresses, "Abba, Father."

That's our privilege and the blessing we receive through baptism. We can speak to God in that very familiar way, "Abba, Daddy," a term of endearment and love. The lessons today actually help us to get, I think, a deeper understanding of baptism, what it means when we become sons and daughters of God, brothers and sisters of Jesus. First of all in that Gospel lesson, what Luke is really doing, it's not really about who's serving and who isn't serving, who's doing all the work or not, Luke is trying to get us to understand that Mary has chosen the better part because she has chosen to be a disciple of Jesus.

A disciple is one who sat at the feet of the master to learn, to listen, to hear, and to grow because of that learning. Actually, what is happening in this instance is there's an extraordinary different understanding about the role of women. Women in the culture of Jesus, the time of his life, were not disciples until he came and began to call women as his disciples. They were his disciples as fully as the men, especially in Luke's Gospel.

He mentions other women who are disciples of Jesus. We don't quite get this, I think. It isn't as bad in our day, but it's still not good. Women are not fully equal in the church or in society, and yet, we have come some way. Jesus wants us to really make tremendous changes. He was happy that Mary could be a disciple just like Peter and James and John and all the rest. Luke has instructed us long before Paul wrote about it in the letter to the Colossians that we heard today about how we carry on the work of Jesus.

Luke has instructed us that women have as full a role in our church, in our society as men; they're equal. We still have a ways to go in our church. Pope Francis has talked about giving women leadership roles. He says we need to do this, but so far there hasn't been a whole lot of progress. He's talked about it, but it has to happen. Our baptism is a basis for that. St. Paul in writing to the church of Galatia says, "In Jesus there's neither Jew nor Greek, slave or free, male or female, rich or poor. Everyone is the same once you become a brother or sister of Jesus."

That's an important lesson for us to learn about baptism. When we are baptized we become a full child of God, equal in every way to any other child of God. But now there's also a challenge and that comes to us in the first lesson. In that portion of the letter to the Colossians today, Paul talked about filling up what is lacking in the struggles or the sufferings of Jesus. Every disciple is called to do that. Jesus was only here a short time, but he left a community of disciples behind to complete his work, to keep spreading that good news of God's love, to keep transforming our world into as close an image of the reign of God as possible, to bring a fullness of life for every person.

Our first lesson today indicates something that I think we could find very challenging at this moment.

Abraham and Sarah were suddenly visited by strangers coming along the road, and they reached out, they welcomed them. These were travelers who needed a rest, needed to wash their feet, get that soothing warm water that would take away the dust and the pain. They needed food and drink, they needed relaxation.

Abraham and Sarah welcomed them immediately, and that's something that is so typical of that culture. Hospitality was a primary requirement if you were to be a faithful member of the Chosen people. It was just part of their culture, too. I don't think it's difficult for any of us to make the application today. As Pope Francis keeps pointing out: There are millions and millions of people who have been driven from their homes by violence, by war, by lack of resources. They're suffering and dying. They need to be welcomed, to be taken in.

Francis himself has brought refugees back to the Vatican as a model, an example. In our country right now this is not a popular idea. Too many people, I'm convinced, think it might not be a bad idea to build a wall to keep them out. But that isn't what we're hearing from the Scriptures today. We are called to welcome all people. It's one human family; we're all sons and daughters of God. Those of us who share the very life of Jesus must continue as Paul says, "To fill up what was lacking in Jesus' sufferings and struggles." We continue his work in our world, in our own country.

The homeless people are everywhere. We even read and hear about homeless people being beat up, pushed away -- how wrong. So for the disciples of Jesus, baptized into the life of Jesus, this is one of the things we have to work on -- to try to have an attitude of welcoming, doing what we can to help those people who are in such dire need from other parts of the world, but within our own communities also. Yes, it's a great blessing to become a child of God, son or daughter of God, brother or sister to Jesus.

And we rejoice in that, but also we take on the responsibility of fulfilling what was lacking in the work of Jesus. As he left, returned to the Father, he commissioned us to carry on his work. All of us who are baptized I hope will rejoice in that great gift that we have, but also commit ourselves to be open to where Jesus leads us in following him to bring the fullness of his life to all the peoples of our planet.

[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.]

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