I feel a particular closeness to Christ today… I’m happy to be home, here at Holy Family Parish where I grew up, but I wouldn’t be surprised if some people here are thinking like our people in the Gospel, where did he get all this… Isn’t he just Mary’s son? And so, no prophet is welcome in his native place! I certainly do not feel that way when I come home. All kidding aside it is great to be here. But something important for us to notice is that just because the people were unable to hear the Good News from Jesus didn’t stop Jesus from teaching. Nor did it stop Ezekiel. Though the generation he preached to was rebellious, he was still called to be a prophet, to speak God’s word, so that regardless, they will know a prophet was among them…
Who is a prophet? Biblical prophets are those who literally speak God’s words to his people. Biblical prophets from the Old Testament usually addressed the bad behavior and infidelity of the Israelites. Often they predicted that if they continued this behavior, these bad things will happen. Often, they did not listen and the bad things did happen to the Israelites; hence, the reason people think of fortune-telling as the function of a prophet. But, the real function of a prophet is to speak God’s words to His people—often words that incited conversion.
Most of us here are baptized Christians. This means that all of us have received three fundamental characteristics at our baptism; priests (one who prays to God), king (loving service to others), and prophet (one who speaks God’s words). This weekend, we are invited to consider our identity as prophets. So, I invite all of us to reflect on this question: Are we responding to our call to be a prophet in our world today?
Two reasons that we avoid our prophetic task. The first reason we avoid our prophetic task is illustrated in our second reading from Saint Paul. He confesses to us, I, Paul, might not become too elated, because…, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, an angel of Satan, to beat me, to keep me from being too elated. Paul is experiencing some battle with sin and the evil one. He knows his weakness. All of us are like Paul, we are very familiar without weakness and capacity to sin. This can be a deterrent for us when we feel called to prophesy. We think, “how could I say something to that person when I myself have struggled with something similar?!?” We feel like hypocrites Saint Paul tells us that is precisely in our experience of weakness, and our recognition of our need for God, that makes us qualified to prophesy. This is what prevents us from pride. Instead, we say to another out of love, and because of our own similar experiences, that he/she needs to change.
The other reason we avoid our prophetic task is that it puts us in the middle of conflict. It’s easier to avoid the difficult conversations than to have them at all. But here’s the thing, God might be using our voice to poke at the consciences of others. As a priest, this is the most challenging aspect of preaching: “When should I challenge bad behaviors, sins, or societal sins (societal acceptance of abortion, deterioration of marriage, immigration policies etc.) in my homilies?” There is a tension that exists here. Some people in the pews want every homily to be about these issues. Some people in the pews would rather that the homily never discusses these issues. So the challenge for me is to discern, when does it make sense, in light of the Scriptures for that Sunday, for me to talk about these issues? The short answer is, there will be times when God will convict my heart and ask me to do this, and it will take courage to do so.
Another example of how our prophetic task puts us in the middle of conflict is when we feel the need to challenge someone close to us. For example, when someone in our family is struggling, maybe with substance abuse, they need someone close to them to say, “hey, we want to help you, because if we don’t address this, your life will continue to unravel.” How sad it is when we don’t do this, and someone does spiral out of control. Or, another example that some parents experience. A parent is disappointed that their child has decided to cohabitate with his/her significant other. I have had many parents say to me, they are too afraid to say anything because they fear they will push away their child. This is the time to say something. Too often we let the threat of conflict discourage us from prophesying to those in our lives.
Friends, all of us, because of our baptism, are called to be prophets. We always have to do this with love, of course… But maybe God plans to use us and our own experience and relationship with a person, to help that person get back on the road to salvation.
And finally, not only are we called to be prophets for others in our lives, but we are also called to listen to the prophets sent into our lives. Ezekiel shares with us in our first reading, Thus says the LORD GOD! And whether they heed or resist, for they are a rebellious house, they shall know that a prophet has been among them. These are some haunting words for us to consider from the prophet Ezekiel. But the point is clear. We have been sent prophets, it is our duty to listen, no matter how challenging it may be.
So I close with this question for us to consider, How are we prophets for others, and are we listening to the prophets in our own lives?
In Christ’s Love and Friendship,