Following are excerpts from a recent homily given by Bishop Thomas Gumbleton at Lynn University Campus Ministry Chapel, Boca Raton, Forida.
. . . We're used to thinking of Jesus as being mild, gentle, compassionate, always reaching out to those who are the most vulnerable, welcoming sinners, publicans, but [in today's reading (Matthew 23:1-12)] we see the Prophet.
In fact, if you go on just a little bit further than this 23rd chapter of Matthew's Gospel, Jesus begins to cry out, "Woe to you, Scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites." That's not a word we usually think of as coming from Jesus, calling the religious leaders of his day hypocrites. He goes on in passage after passage, verse after verse, calling them hypocrites. It's very much like Malachi in our first lesson tonight who challenged those priests of Malachi's time.
They weren't serving the people. They were serving themselves, and so God, through Malachi, said, "You're cursed." Jesus is speaking along these lines tonight. One thing we have to be careful of, though, is when we hear this 23rd chapter of Matthew's Gospel, we have to be careful not to think it's a passage that is condemning the Jewish people. Over the centuries, this chapter has been used as a basis for anti-Semitism in our Christian community, but it really isn't. Matthew wrote around the year 80.
What he's writing, he's drawing from what is about one or two verses in the Gospel of Mark, and he expands on it. He's speaking now to a community that has been gathered around the word and the sacrament of the Eucharist for almost 50 years now. That community, a Christian community, these words are being addressed to them. It's because they have fallen away. Do you remember the first part of the Acts of the Apostles, how the early Christian community is described as brothers and sisters?
They come together and go to the temple to pray together. They live in a community where everybody shares whatever he or she has so that no one is in need among them. It's a beautiful community of disciples of Jesus, all of whom are equal. Brothers and sisters sharing together, following Jesus deeply and carefully. Now they've begun to bring about separations, a kind of a clericalism has come into the Church. Those who are the religious leaders want to have special places, want to have special titles, want to wear special kinds of garments, and Matthew is saying that's all wrong.
That's not the way Jesus wanted it. You're brothers and sisters. You're equal to one another. So Matthew is trying to draw them back to the way of Jesus and the way they first were. Now it isn't just Matthew's community that God is speaking to through this word. It's our community, too, our community today because God's word is a living word. It still speaks, even now. When we look about our Church -- I say this with sadness, but it's true, I think – we have a lack of really good leadership in our Church.
I think once more, there's a little bit too much clericalism where we try to separate the clergy and laity. Only the clergy can come up on this side of the altar, not lay people and especially not women. I notice you don't pay much attention to that, so thank God, but it's happening in our Church. We're trying to set up those divisions again. There is a lack of leadership, I think, when you realize that in our country, 30 million people have walked away from the Catholic community. That's 10 percent of the U.S. population, 30 million people who were Catholic say, "I don't bother anymore."
What do our leaders do about it? They hardly avert it. They pay no attention. We ought to be reaching out, calling them back. But even more, our leadership in the Church has been terribly flawed, and I think we all know what the main reason is. It's that whole sex abuse crisis: that it happened in the first place and continues to happen, sadly enough. Our leaders covered it up, protected the perpetrators and continued to move them around from parish to parish where it would happen again.
That's a terrible loss to our Church, and the credibility of the bishops is very much diminished because we have this terrible failure. So when Jesus is speaking in the Gospel today to those leaders of the community of Matthew, he's also speaking to our leaders and to all of us, because first of all, of course, the leadership of our Church we pray will change and become more alert to what's really happening in our Church, asking why people are leaving and trying to open the Church up so they'll feel welcome again, rather than protect a perpetrator of abuse.
. . . Jesus says to them very powerfully, "Look, among the Gentiles," that is, the Roman occupiers of the Holy Land at the time, "Those who are in positions of authority lord it over the others. It's a very hierarchical structured authority system where those at the top lord it over or dominate the others, but among you it cannot be that way. The one who is to be the greatest must be the servant," or the word is even "slave," of all the rest. If we're really going to follow Jesus, if we're going to really make our community come alive once more, and if we're going to be like Paul said to the Church at Thessalonica, "A Church that makes other people realize that God is living in our midst," then we have to become servants of each other within our community, but also servants in the world around us.
We're living in a world where there is extraordinary, extreme economic disparity. Archbishop Romero used to say in El Salvador, "So few have so much. So many have so little." That's not right. We have to look at what's going on around us, and recognize that there is so much that is not right. It's your job and my job as disciples of Jesus to become the servants of one another, to make sure no one is lacking as it was in the first Christian community. It's a very strong and powerful challenge that God's word gives to us today.
If we listen deeply, let that word enter into our minds first of all, but then down into our hearts to change us, then we can once more truly become a community of disciples of Jesus who will hear the word of God as the word that it is, the divine word of God, penetrating deeply into our minds and our hearts, and as we prayed at the beginning, that we'll have the strength to live that word, to carry it out, and we will become once more a community of disciples of Jesus that will bring amazement to others when they see how we love one another and carry out the words that God has proclaimed in our midst.
To read Bishop Gumbleton's homily in its entirety, click here.
Related Off-site Links:
Vatican Moved Quickly to Punish Gumbleton – Zoe Ryan (National Catholic Reporter, November 5, 2011).
Bishop Gumbleton: A Priesthood Set Apart and Above Others is Not the Way of Jesus – The Wild Reed (September 28, 2009).
Bishop Gumbleton: It Isn’t the Church You’re Being Asked to Say Yes To . . . It’s Jesus – The Wild Reed (August 31, 2009).
Image: Michael J. Bayly.