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July 6, 2003

Prophets

(Mark 6: 1-6)

Last week we talked about saints and how we are all called to become saints. This week, the church invites us to think about prophets, and how we are all called also to become holy prophets, so I thought we could look at three things: What is a prophet, how Jesus is the great prophet, and our response to the prophet Jesus.

The common misunderstanding is that a prophet is someone who predicts the future, but actually a prophet is someone who has insight into the present. A prophet is not someone who speaks whatever he wants, but who speaks the truth, and not just any truth, but God’s truth. So a prophet is a messenger from God, sent by God to speak the unpopular truth, God’s truth, to the community of faith. Prophets tell us not what we want to hear but what God wants us to hear.

All the biblical prophets had no choice. God appeared to them and said, “You go tell those people to stop sinning.” The prophet Jonah said “No way!” and tried to run away and ended up in the belly of the whale. The prophet Jeremiah said, “God, I can’t speak, I’m too young,” but God didn’t buy that. The prophet Ezekiel was given a scroll, the word of God, and told, “Eat this and my word will be in you and everything you say will be from me.” So prophets go forth and tell people what God wants them to do. God usually sends prophets because there is a problem, so prophets usually denounce sin, and not just personal, individual sin, but social sin, the sin of the nation, the sin of the religious community. This doesn’t go over very well.

Everyone starts objecting to them, criticizing them, denouncing them, rejecting them and kicking them out. Prophets like Ezekiel and Isaiah got harassed, abused, arrested, and killed, because no one wants to hear the truth, no one wants to hear about social sin, no one wants to be told that their beloved nation offends God, and no one wants to hear how their community of faith is really not faithful at all.

God has sent great prophets throughout history and God has sent us great prophets in recent decades, and we can tell they were prophets, because they all had a difficult time, like Martin Luther King, Jr. the prophet of racial equality and nonviolence; Dorothy Day, the prophet of the poor and Gospel peacemaking; Cesar Chavez, the prophet of economic justice and workers’ rights; Nelson Mandela, the prophet of racial justice; Philip Berrigan, the prophet of nuclear disarmament; and the Dalai Lama, the prophet of compassion.

Now if these were great prophets, then Jesus is the greatest prophet. And like all prophets, he gets thoroughly trashed. So in this sad Gospel we have today. He’s back home in Nazareth, speaking in the synagogue on the Sabbath, and everyone in town, his family, neighbors, the religious and political leaders reject him, and in the end, even his friends reject him.

They don’t reject Jesus because they do not like the way he looks. They don’t reject him because they don’t think he’s smart. They reject him because he says very tough things. He tells them to stop being violent and unjust and idolatrous, to stop supporting the empire and its wars, to start serving one another, loving one another, and forgiving one another, and they say, “Who do you think you are to tell us what to do? How dare you speak to us that way!”

Now we could say, “Those people sure got it all wrong!,” but I think if Jesus were here today among us, he would say the same tough things, that we have to stop being violent and unjust and idolatrous, stop supporting our empire and its wars, and start serving one another, loving one another, and forgiving one another more and more. He would want us to become a prophetic people, like the early Christians, a community that speaks the truth, denounces the world’s violence, and welcomes God’s reign of love and peace.

So the question today is: How are we going to respond to Jesus the prophet? Are we going to reject him, like they did back then, or are we going to accept him, welcome his prophetic word, even if we don’t understand it, but trust that it is for our own good, and do what he says? That’s the great invitation. And that’s why we’re here, not to reject Jesus, but to welcome him and his difficult but beautiful word of love and truth.

So today as we come to the Lord’s table, we can pray: “Lord Jesus, we do not want to reject you ever again. We want to welcome you here in our hearts, in our community, in our families and in our world. We want you to tell us whatever you want to tell us. And we ask you to help us to listen, to open our hearts and our ears, to accept your word, to take your word to heart, to do what you say. From now on, we want to live according to your Gospel, your prophetic message, to become your faithful holy saints, servants, disciples and prophets.”

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