There is a passage in the Book of the Prophet Isaiah that I have always thought of as a very marvelous, extraordinary way of showing who God is and how God acts in relation to us. This is from the 30th chapter in the Book of Isaiah and it time when the prophet has been preaching to the people, who are threatened with an invasion from the north, not to enter into an alliance with the Egyptians and not to go to war. The prophet is pleading with the people "Seek peace and only peace." But they reject the prophet's message and they go to war. They are defeated, but then the prophet says these extraordinary words, speaking for God: "God is always waiting to be gracious to you. God comes to show you compassion." I have always thought of this as a very beautiful expression of who God is. God is always waiting, waiting to be gracious to us. No matter how we have sinned, rejected God, God is waiting. That is a very reassuring revelation about God.
The Peace Pulpit
In today's Gospel, Jesus is heading to Jerusalem and he knows what is facing him there. But he is also attracting this large crowd of people who following him with great enthusiasm. Jesus determines that this is something critical. A decisive moment. It was for the people of that time, and because this word of God is a living word it must be a decisive moment for each one of us. Are we really ready to make the decision to follow Jesus?
Obviously, in our lessons today -- God’s Word that we are listening to carefully -- we are being instructed about humility. This is a virtue that I think many of us have some trouble with -- even though in our first lesson the writer of that Book of Wisdom tells us that the greater you are, the more you should humble yourself and find favor with God. It is the humble that give God glory. We hear that, but we still wonder about being humble because many of us, I think, have an understanding of humility that it somehow means putting yourself down.
Probably we noticed, as we listened to the gospel, that Jesus really does not answer the person's question, the one who cried out from the crowd, "Will only a few be saved?" Obviously the person asking that question is concerned about personal, individual salvation — how many are there going to be that will be saved? Jesus doesn't consider that because he didn't come just to preach personal salvation.
We gather together obviously with great joy to celebrate the feast today: the feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into heaven. Mary, according to the feast that we celebrate, went immediately through death to new life without her body falling into decay and being buried. And of course it was a significant blessing for her -- a sign of her unique place in the whole story of our salvation -- and so we rejoice in this and celebrate.
In a few moments, as we always do on Sunday, we will recite what we call our profession of faith, the doctrines that we believe in, and most of the time, I think, when someone says to us, “What is your faith?” we think of those doctrines, a creator, God; or the incarnation, God becoming flesh; or the Immaculate Conception, Mary born without any sin -- all of these doctrines we think of as our faith, and it’s very intellectual. It is an aspect of our faith, but as we listen to the lessons today, we discover a very different understanding of what faith really is, and one that is, I think, much richer than simply assenting to a list of doctrine.
Today Jesus opens up for us a teaching about what can be one of the most difficult parts of our following of Jesus, how to make use and enjoy and, to some extent, accumulate even the material things in the world around us. The teaching we’re confronted with today is a very profound teaching in trying to follow Jesus. It’s the proper attitude toward wealth, toward material things, and coming to grips with that part of the beatitudes, the very first one where Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor. Woe to the rich.” What should be our way of thinking about material wealth, and what should we do by way of possessing wealth or trying to achieve the blessedness of the poverty Jesus teaches about?
I find it very easy to imagine how the disciples, not just on this occasion but on many occasions, watched Jesus praying. In Luke's gospel, we're told that many times, Jesus went apart by himself to be alone in communion with God in deep prayer, and wouldn't you think that as the disciples watched that, they would see Jesus become very peaceful, very serene, a beautiful sense of joy and peace on his countenance, and they would want to know, "How can I pray and be like that?" so the question they asked Jesus is very important: "Teach us how to pray," and Jesus does. And you notice what he tells them, just a very few words -- it was very clear, very direct.
Bishop Gumbleton delivered this homily July 18 at the National Pax Christi Conference in Chicago. He preached on the gospel text for the Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Luke 10:38-42, the story of Mary and Martha. "In today's gospel," he said, "we're being shown Mary as the one who chose the better part because she was living out the role of a disciple ... that and Mary was welcomed.”
Jesus challenged [the disciples]: “Now that you recognize me as the Christ, the Son of the living God, I invite you, take up my cross and follow me.” That was the challenge given to all of us, to recognize Jesus as the Son of God and then to follow him. Then last Sunday, the Gospel reminded us of how following Jesus requires dramatic changes in our lives. “The Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head. The birds of the air have their nests and foxes have the hole where they live, but the Son of Man has nothing. If you follow me, you give up your security and wealth.” We choose to have what we need, but not excess.