Our first reading recounts the calling of Jeremiah to be a prophet. Throughout salvation history, being a prophet was never a job that people sought after. From Moses, who tried to convince God that he didn’t speak well enough, to Jeremiah, who claimed he was too young, even to Jesus, who asked the Father to let this cup pass in the Garden of Gethsemane, prophets trembled at the trials ahead of them. And with good reason. Jeremiah was threatened with death several times, thrown into a cistern to die in the mud, imprisoned, dragged off to die in exile in Egypt against his will, and perhaps most painfully, watched the destruction of Jerusalem because its inhabitants would not listen to his message.
The Gospel story we heard today is another example of why prophets do not jump for joy at their career prospects. In the space of 5 verses, the people of Nazareth turn from being amazed at the gracious words coming from Jesus’ mouth to dragging him off to the cliff to murder him. Let’s face it; the Scriptures do not make a very appealing want ad for the job of prophet. Nor do the news reports we hear today. Speaking God’s truth by word or by deed is a risky business even today. Hundreds of Christians have been killed in the past year in Indonesia, in Iraq, in Sri Lanka, in Ethiopia, and India and elsewhere around the world. In our country, the attack is not so much physical as it is psychological.
Most of the commentaries on this Gospel, and so most of the homilies you hear preached on it, invite us to put ourselves in the shoes of the people of Nazareth and reflect on whether we are rejecting Jesus in our midst today. That is certainly a worthwhile reflection. But I would invite you to look at today’s Gospel story from the point of view of the prophet. How many people here have been anointed as prophets? All of us who have been baptized have been anointed priest, prophet and king. So how many people here are just chomping at the bit to be a prophet? I can see we are continuing the scriptural tradition of prophets shrinking from their call!
And what is the job of a prophet? It is not, as many people think, to predict the future. Instead, it is to speak God’s truth, God’s word. How can that get you into all the trouble prophets get into? Well, most of the time, the majority of the world does not want to hear God’s truth. The devil has done an excellent job at promoting lies, to the extent that most people believe the lie, and they believe that the lie is better for them. And it has been that way from the beginning, as recounted by the Genesis story. The serpent tells Adam and Eve that they will be better off if they eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.
Do you know why the people of Nazareth wanted to kill Jesus? Because he told them God’s truth. He told them the truth that salvation requires that we all participate, and as proof he pointed out that he was unable to heal the sick in his own home town because the people's faith was not strong enough. Salvation is not something that God does TO us, like a magic trick. It is something that God invites us to participate in. Jesus told them the truth that God’s plan was to save all peoples, even the people the Nazarene’s considered their enemies, the truth that being God’s chosen people did not mean that God favored them to the exclusion of everyone else. Everyone that Jesus talked about as receiving God’s favor, Naaman the Syrian, the widow of Zarephath, belonged to people despised by the Nazarenes. The people in that synagogue believed the lie that they would be better off if God did not love their enemies.
So the first characteristic of a good prophet is to be able to see the lie. Don’t think that this is easy. Satan is no amateur. He knows how to package lies so they seem reasonable, attractive, even sensible. We are surrounded on all sides by very slick presentations of lies. Lies that say there is no God because you cannot measure God; lies that say there is no objective good or bad but it is whatever you feel is good or bad; lies that say violence and power are the way to bring about change.
So you have to see the lie. Paul gives us a good measure to use to detect the lie. Is it based on self-seeking, convenience, then it is not love, it is a lie. And all the other attributes of love he gives us make it easy to spot the lie.
It is not enough to just see the lie, as important as that is. We have to do something about countering it. To remain silent is to support the lie. It is hard to see the effect in just a small time but even looking at the effect of almost 30 years of saying that abortion is a choice rather than a killing has made it “common sense”. Back a few years ago when my youngest daughter was in high school, the majority of the students in her class at Hudson Catholic HS thought abortion should be allowed.
And it is not just abortion. Religion itself is held up to ridicule now. It is interesting to see the media treat religion in a way that makes it seems ridiculous. Like any good lie, it starts with a kernel of truth. The strategy that I see played out in bulletin boards and blogs every day is to attack fundamentalists for their obviously dysfunctional understanding of God and then portray them as if all people of faith think the way fundamentalists do so all religion is evil
The media is full of shows and people who glorify the lies of promiscuity, of the homosexual lifestyle, of violence and aggression. Just think of every major popular movie, TV show, rock star, or famous personality. You would have to look hard and fast to find any that don't vigorously promote a lifestyle that is destructive. And even when that destruction is self-destruction that is splashed across the headlines, it does nothing to illuminate the lie for being a lie.
Just try to speak out against any of this and watch the attacks. You will be labeled a radical. You will be accused of imposing your religion on others. You will be told it is fun and harmless. I recently made a remark at a party about the promiscuity showcased in Grey's Anatomy, and you would have thought I had besmirched Mother Theresa. I was accused of pontificating and being a hypocrite. One person said that they watched the show for the relationships which reminded me of the excuse I used to hear alot years ago when guys would say that they bought Playboy magazine for the articles, not the pictures.
To be true to our calling as prophets we need to speak out, but more importantly to live out God’s truth. If we are trying to teach our children how to live a moral life and then watching Desparate Housewives or Grey's anatomyona regular basis then we have no credibility and the lie gets stronger. If we are trying to teach our children that God's plan demands that we show a preferential option for the poor and the marginal in society and are watching Survivor or The Apprentice, then we have no credibility. The shows we watch or the music we listen to speak volumes to those around us. Are they speaking God’s truth? The conversations we have at work, at home, at school, speak volumes. Are they speaking God’s truth?
I pray we have the strength to be good prophets. Jesus said that the good news Isaiah proclaims of rest from labor, freedom from captivity, restored sight, and reclamation of what is ours is at hand. This promise of God’s is fulfilled in our hearing. It is fulfilled because God has sent his anointed to speak his truth, his word. With Jesus as our head, we are God’s anointed, we are the body of Christ. The kingdom of God is at hand; but it is not yet fully here. So when we are sent forth at the end of Mass to love and server the Lord and each other, let’s gird up our loins, stand up, and go speak God's truth.