This reading reminds us that God sends prophets into our midst for our benefit. The question is: Are we open-minded enough to listen to new ideas and insights, to allow our attention to be re-directed to things we have ignored or taken for granted? Can we listen to Pope Francis’ invitation to care for all of creation, human and non-human? Normally, papal documents are addressed to the bishops of the Church or the lay faithful. But, similar to Pope Saint John XXIII’s Pacem in Terris, Pope Francis addresses his message to all people.
In the few weeks since the release of the papal encyclical there has been much debate – surely more to come – about whether the pope has any place speaking out on issues that some consider should be no concern of his because they are not about religion. But, keep listening because more and more are expressing the opinion that environmental issues are not simply scientific, or economic, or political issues — they are moral issues as well. There is a connection between changes in our earthly environment and what happens to human life and dignity around the world – especially to the poor and vulnerable.
You’ve heard the expression: “You can’t tell a book by its cover.” All too often we judge the “cover.” We get so bogged down in appearances, in the humanity of the proclaimer that we refuse to listen to the proclamation. Who does she think she is?
This was the unanimous reaction recently by the judges on “America’s Got Talent.” Three fellows looking like they’d just rolled out of bed came on stage. When they opened their mouths, spell-binding tenor music poured forth into the auditorium where hundreds sat open-mouthed, on the edges of their seats realizing what a terrible presumptive judgment they’d made.
Perhaps what is even worse is when we view ourselves in such a negative way that we say: “Who am I to tell anyone what to do or not do, when I know that often I do things far worse?” The reality is that every one of us, simply because of our baptism, has been called to be a prophet. There are some things over which we cannot compromise. There are some times when we cannot keep silent. We cannot be dissuaded by our own shortcomings. God will stand by us and give us what we need when we need it. We don’t have to live tomorrow on today’s graces.
No one wants to be seen as self-righteous. But we don’t claim that the wisdom of the Gospel is a product of our own. We humbly proclaim what we have received. Not to proclaim it would be ungrateful to God who revealed it to us. We need to hand on the heritage that has been passed down to us. Without a heritage, every generation has to start over. If we fail to share the prophetic message of the Gospel other louder voices will be happy to impose their godless vision of society on us.
It’s difficult to be a prophet because we’re afraid of appearing to be judgmental. Keep in mind the message Fr. Joseph preached last week: “It is better to be loving than to be right.” Mentally, step back and ask yourself – in the overall view for eternity, is what you are insisting on even worth the so-called “hill of beans.”
It’s not easy to prophetic. It never has been and it never will be, but nevertheless that’s what God calls us to be and He promises a prophet’s reward for fidelity to our mission. On the other hand if we prefer not to rock the boat, as Aristotle said “To avoid criticism…say nothing, do nothing, and be nothing.”
When Jesus preached, His words were filled with divine authority. He did not speak like the local rabbis. When the people of Nazareth heard Jesus speak, they were amazed. But, his enemies could not explain Him, so they rejected His message. They thought they knew everything there was to know about Him. They knew that He had never been to divinity school. They knew that He had no formal training.
They also knew His occupation. They saw Him as a common craftsman. They looked at Him and said, “You are no better than we are! Why should we listen to you?” They knew everything there was to know about Jesus, or so they thought! To them, Jesus was just another boy from Nazareth.
These people did what all people do when they cannot understand someone. They resort to rejection or ridicule – the final refuge of a small mind! They called Him “the son of Mary”. This was never done in that society! A male was always referred to as the son of his father, even if his father was dead. To call a boy the son of his mother was to imply that His mother had been a harlot.
Jesus was amazed that these people had heard the truth, seen the truth and still turned a deaf ear and a blind eye to that truth. As a result, He left Nazareth, and there is no record that He ever returned there.
We may sum up the story in the words of William Barclay: “There can be no preaching in the wrong atmosphere. The listeners are responsible for at least half of every sermon. In an atmosphere of expectancy, the least effort will catch fire. In an atmosphere of coldness or indifference, the most spirit-filled of sermons will fall flat.”
To be a prophet is difficult because the message of the Gospel is challenging and sometimes controversial, but it’s a message that people (we) need to hear whether or not we want to hear it.