We must live like Jesus to transform the world into the reign of God

by Thomas Gumbleton

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Last Sunday, of course, on Easter, we reflected with great joy on what had happened to Jesus. The same disciples who had seen him tortured, executed and put to death saw him alive, risen from the dead. They rejoiced, and we rejoiced last week with them as we remembered and ourselves came to re-strengthen our own faith that Jesus is alive, he's risen from the dead. That was more than enough to reflect on and to think about all this week.

Second Sunday of Easter
Sunday of Divine Mercy

Acts 4:32-35
Psalms 118:2-4, 13-15, 22-24
1 John 5:1-6
John 20:19-31
Full text of the readings

But now we listen carefully to our lessons this morning. We go a step beyond that. We are called to the Gospel especially, to understand what happens to us or what should happen to us if we really believe that Jesus is alive and that he's called us to be his disciples. When he came to those disciples that Easter Sunday night, they were all living in fear. They were afraid that what happened to Jesus might happen to them. What's the first thing he does as he comes into their midst? He doesn't rebuke them because they all ran away.

That's probably what they were afraid of, of course. But no, he says to them, "Peace be with you," and he reaches out in forgiveness to them. Then he goes on to tell them (and this is the message for us), he tells them, "As God has sent me, I now send you. You know that I am alive. You know that all that happened to me was under the guidance of God, that I went through death to new life. Now you, too, are to share in that life."

You may remember the words of St. Paul in the letter to the church at Rome: "You who have been baptized into Christ have been baptized into his death. Just as Christ rose from the dead, so too will you rise to new life." So in our baptism, we go through death to new life. Now we share the life of Jesus. We are the presence of Jesus in the midst of the world in which we live. That calls us to change our lives, to follow the way of Jesus.

Perhaps the first thing to notice is how Jesus does bring to them the gift of reconciliation and forgiveness. But then he tells them, "As I've done this to you, you, too, must do it to others." We have to be people who are ready to forgive, even if violence and hatred is perpetrated against us. It's hard, but isn't that what Jesus did? Now he calls us; we're his disciples, "Whatever evil you forgive, it's forgiven, and the evil you restrain, it will be restrained. That is, if you begin to follow me, live the way I do and have lived among you."

There are so many ways in which that kind of reconciliation and forgiveness is so needed in our world. You can't be unaware if you pay any attention to what's happening that we live in a world where there's violence, hatred and killing. Sometimes, this happens to us. I'm sure we all have been aware of the trial of the young man who, with his brother, perpetrated that terrible violence in Boston. He was on trial and convicted on every count.

Now they'll begin a court session to determine: Will he be executed or will there be some mercy and he'll be given life in prison? I heard people on the radio saying, "I want vengeance! That's all I want is vengeance!" Now, could any Christian say that if we listen to what Jesus has said? No. We have to forgive, try to bring reconciliation even to a person who does an atrocity like that. It's hard to be a disciple of Jesus. It's demanding; it's challenging.

But if we really believe that Jesus went through death to new life and calls us to the same thing, and we want to follow him, then we have to try to do it. So on every individual level, within our families even, or our neighborhoods, our community, our country, we have to try to do this. The part where Jesus says, "The evil you restrain, it will be restrained," that brings me to think about what President Obama has been trying to do.

Instead of following those who say, "Go to war against Iran. Destroy all of their nuclear facilities," he says: "No. Diplomacy, step by step. Wage peace instead of war." A lot of people don't support him. But if we listen to what Jesus says, isn't it necessary to try to restrain the evil of the development of nuclear weapons in peaceful ways, the way of Jesus? Yesterday, President Obama shook hands with Raul Castro, trying to bring about reconciliation between the tiny country of Cuba that we kept an embargo against for 50 years, causing the people of Cuba to suffer.

Now, finally, we're reaching out with reconciliation. Again, it's very controversial. A lot of people say, "No, we shouldn't do that. Punish them." For what? What has Cuba ever done against us? Isn't it the way of Jesus to reconcile, to reach out, to forgive even if they have done something against us? I don't think we can really listen to these words of Jesus proclaimed to us today and not try to reach out in reconciliation and forgiveness. We share in his risen life. We are his disciples. We have to try to follow his way.

Then there's one other way that we think about if we're now sharing a risen life of Jesus. This is made so clear in the first lesson today. Those first disciples: Imagine. No one was in need among them. No one in that community was in need because the whole community supported everyone. They shared what they had. We live in a society where there's a huge gap between the rich and the poor, and it gets larger and larger.

Pope Francis in his exhortation on the joy of the Gospel points out how wrong that is. We have to try to close that gap, find ways that the goods of this earth that God gave for all are not held by a few while so many suffer. There are many ways in which, on an individual level or at a societal level, we have to try to change what's going on in my life and in our world so that we can come closer to that ideal that is presented to us in that first lesson this morning.

Those first disciples didn't live up to it the whole time. No, they failed a lot, but that was their goal. That's what they strived for. We have to try to do the same thing in our lives -- share, reach out, and aim for what must seem almost impossible -- that there would be no one in need in our midst -- make that our goal, at least. So as we listen to the Scriptures today, we understand that Jesus brought us new life. Through our baptism, we died and were buried with him. Now, we've risen to new life. Now it's so important that we try to live that life -- the life of Jesus, be like Jesus, follow Jesus, make our world, change it, transform it into the reign of God, where there's peace and fullness of life for everyone.

[Homily given at St. Philomena Catholic Church 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.]

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