We must reach out in service to the most vulnerable

by Thomas Gumbleton

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You may recall in last Sunday’s Gospel, we also heard Jesus talking about his coming torture and execution, then Peter telling Jesus, “No, that doesn’t have to happen.” And Jesus telling Peter, “Get behind me you Satan because you’re speaking in human terms not according to God’s way.” Now Jesus tells him again about his passion and death, although in the meantime other things had been happening.

Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Wisdom 2:12, 17-20
Psalms 54:3-4, 5, 6, 8
James 3:16-4:3
2 Thessalonians 2:14
Mark 9:30-37
Full text of the readings

He had gone up to the Mount of Tabor and was transfigured before three of the disciples, experienced God’s amazing love in a very profound way. Then he had gone on and they were traveling along and curing people, teaching and so on. Then in today’s Gospel, once more he tells them what’s going to happen to him. I can imagine Jesus must have been getting a little bit frustrated because, again, even though he made it very plain what was going to happen to him, they did not want to hear it.

They did not want to really know who Jesus was and what was going to happen to him, how he was going to make the reign of God happen, not through power, might and military force, but through suffering and responding to hatred and violence with love — an amazing way to overcome evil, only by responding with love. In today’s passage, Jesus makes that love not just something that happened to him at the end of his life when he poured forth his love on those killing him on the cross, but by his constant service to others, always reaching out to the poor and the most vulnerable, healing, teaching and exhorting and praising and comforting.

The disciples are thinking (as Peter had as we heard in last Sunday’s Gospel) that Jesus, because he was this wonderworker, he had such a huge following. They could overthrow the Roman Empire. They could set the Jewish people free, rebuild their temple and make it the source of worship without any hindrance from the Romans again. But that wasn’t the way. Jesus calls them to a life of service, “If you want to be my disciple, deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me in serving others.”

To make the point very, very clear, in today’s Gospel, Jesus takes that child, embraces the child and tells the disciples, “Whenever you serve a child like this child you will serve me and the One who sent me.” In the time of Jesus — it’s throughout the Roman Empire and even in the Jewish tradition — children were not thought of as important. They were the most vulnerable in society, so Jesus was trying to teach them, “You have to reach out and serve the ones who are most vulnerable starting with little children.”

As we think about that today and we look at what is going on in our world, obviously we need to hear this message of Jesus that if we are his followers, his disciples, we must reach out in service to all those in need and especially the most vulnerable. Isn’t that the example that we receive from Pope Francis who will be in our country on Monday, already in Cuba reaching out to people who have been under severe oppression for many years, but now coming to our country and has arranged already to meet some of the most vulnerable people?

Yes, there will be those big occasions when he speaks at the U.N., when he speaks before the Congress, when he engages with all the bishops of the country, when he attends the conference on families. But he has made sure he is going to have the opportunity to meet people in jail — the most vulnerable, despised even, looked down upon. He’s going to meet with the women who are sewing the linens for the papal Masses. Most of the time they would be just forgot about, but Pope Francis wants to meet with them.

He’s going to meet with the carwash people. I’m sure most of us have gone through a carwash and you see the ones who wipe our windows in the car afterwards. Do you ever think about how much they make; obviously, not very much. He’s going to meet with those people. Francis is really trying to show us that what Jesus said is so important — that we must try to reach out to the most vulnerable in our society just as he did, those that are fleeing oppression and war, violence and poverty, trying to find a way to live with some decency.

We must reach out to serve them. Today, this Gospel has a special importance for our parish family because we’re going to install the teachers and the catechetical ministers who will be reaching out to our children in this parish family, trying to instill within them a love for our faith, an understanding of who Jesus is, an understanding of our teachings.

Obviously, in many ways, children in our parish family aren’t among the most vulnerable children in our country or in our world and yet, isn’t it true when you think about it, that they are very vulnerable, vulnerable to the culture that is all around us, a culture of consumption, going against the way of Jesus, a culture of violence that is so prevalent in our society, a culture of distain of loving sexuality, that cheapens it, a culture that even draws young people into a life of being sex slaves. It’s a terrible culture in many ways.

Yes, we have many blessings and many ideals, but our culture in many ways is a culture that goes against the Gospel of Jesus. So the work of our teachers and those who are going to try to instill the spirit of faith in our children is one of the most important works of our parish family. Of course it starts in the home with the parents, but also it has to be reinforced and strengthened within the parish family.

We will today install our teachers and I trust that all of us will pray for them, pray that they may be able to reach out to these young people in our parish family and help them to know Jesus, to know his values and to be able to accept those values into their own lives, to grow up to be very clear disciples of Jesus and his way, the way of service and love, the way that leads to fullness of life and joy, the way that leads ultimately to peace in our hearts, in our homes, in our world.

The work of our teachers is very important. The work of parents is very important. Today we pray and bless them and trust that they will carry out this work of service that Jesus calls the most important part of his ministry and promises that whatever we do for them, we do for Jesus and for the One who sent Jesus.

[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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