January 30, 2022
Every Catholic knows the names of some of the Old Testament Prophets – like Isaiah and Jeremiah because the Catholic Church reads from their writings very often at Mass.
You can Google the names of 10 modern prophets. You may have heard of some of their names: the American Jesuit Daniel Berrigan, the World War II Holocaust survivor, Corrie ten Boom, the American founder of the Catholic Worker movement, Dorothy Day, the El Salvador martyrs, Sisters Ita Ford, Maura Clark, Sr. Dorothy Kazel… St. Oscar Romero and Jean Donovan. And there are more.
Our first reading from the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah describes the very personal call that he received. Do all prophets receive this kind of call or perhaps we would describe it as “an awakening”?
To listen to Jeremiah describe, he hears God tell him that God had dedicated him to be “a prophet to the nations,” that what he would do and say would have consequences, long after his life – around the world.
A prophet is a person who speaks for God to people who do not want to hear God. All prophets faced abuse, indifference and sometimes death.
If anyone is invited to trust God, certainly a prophet is. God tells Jeremiah: “They will fight against you, but not prevail over you, for I am with you to deliver you.”
Let me stretch the purpose and the place of a prophet out of your comfort zone. Every single little piece of Creation is a prophet. More than one person or a few worthy persons, everything that is created is a prophet because everything, no matter how human or nonhuman is filled and is infused with the divine spirit of life, with the prophetic.
In our inability to understand or to see the obvious, once upon a time, we thought only human beings were filled with the divine spirit, and even, we thought only Catholics.
The Spirit of righteousness, goodness and justice are part of our DNA and all DNA, even non-human. As one spiritual writer described it: “All Creation communicates the wonder, the mystery, the complexity and the beauty of the divine.” (Carol Dempsey, National Catholic Reporter, January 29, 2022)
In one sense, just by being who or what we are, we speak the presence of God. Our being is being a prophet.
That may take some getting used to, because we think that we live on some human plane that is not that close to God or not quite naturally infused with the divine presence.
We need to upgrade our awareness and our appreciation of ourselves as divine presences who have our own unique DNA, vocation – “calling”, gifts and graces. We have more going for us than we think or are aware of, or appreciate.
By the very fact that we are children of God, who live good, caring and just lives, we are prophets. By being what the Australian theologian, Matthew Kelly, describes “as the best version of ourselves,” we are prophets.
Where did we become a prophet? We became a prophet at the moment of our Baptism. Who remembers when?
When the presider anointed us with the Holy Chrism, he said, “As Christ was anointed Priest, Prophet and King, so may you live always as a member of his body, sharing everlasting life.”
So, you do not have to be “perfectissimo” as a prophet, you don’t have to look or sound like one, – you just have to be and to share your best self. I think that is what St. Francis of Assisi was trying to tell us when he said “Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necessary. Our example is the first prophecy.”
Why did the people get so enraged with Jesus today? It was not so much about the Spirit of the Lord anointing him, but rather about the two examples of Elijah and Elisha, when he compared himself to the first greater prophets, poking fun at their certainty about being God’s chosen people. The widow in Zarephath and the leper who was a Syrian general, neither were Jewish or a part of God’s chosen people… [yet] that is whom God blessed.
Very politely, Jesus pointed out the discriminatory attitudes and behavior of the Jewish neighbors sitting in their fine synagogue. Does anyone here think that they are better, more chosen, more favored by God than anyone else here?
There is a whole segment of political life that believes and continues “The Big Lie.” Maybe even some believe that they are devout Christians or Catholics. Jesus the prophet tells us that cannot be. That is why the people who heard Jesus drove him out of the Synagogue to throw him over the cliff.
A prophet calls people to the truth. Jesus was not afraid to call people to the truth. It led him eventually to his death on a cross. Sometimes, it leads good people on many levels in their lives, to leave the Church because they do not want to embrace the truth. (For whatever you think about the former president and whatever his economic prowess and accomplishments, he is not a man of truth. You might say that is too harsh a judgment and who are you to say this to us?)
Many Catholics prefer to gloss over the clear expressions of truth. Jesus did not. He called a spade a spade.
What did the crowds say to Jesus’ face? “Physician, cure yourself.” It’s an old expression to clean up your own act, first, Jesus. The [Book of] Proverbs also connotes, “Prove it to us.” But really, deep down in our hearts, we know it is true.
Jesus did not change his preaching about the kingdom of God. Jesus did not cease calling people to be faithful to the dreams of God. Jesus did not cower before power or money.
In Holy Week, on Good Friday, we will remember the interrogator Pontius Pilate, lashing out at Jesus, “so you think you are king.” “No,” said Jesus, “I do not think that I am “some know-it-all king.” “I came into the world to bear witness to the truth, and all who are on the side of truth listen to my voice.” At which, Pilate went ballistic: “What is that?” he said and walked away.
In the confusion at the end of today’s story, Jesus also walks away. Jesus had heard the words and [the] promise to the Prophet Jeremiah: “I am with you to deliver you.” Somehow, Jesus escaped and walked right through the crowd. What he escaped that day will return to haunt him and to kill him.
What does it mean for you personally to be a prophet? What will be your moments for truth, for integrity, for being the best version of yourself?
You will also notice, that no prophet wanted to be a prophet and many made excuses to God, but God never accepted them. In fact, God overrode them.
Where does that leave you and me?