The Gospel lesson this morning is taken from
a part of Mark’s Gospel that is describing the beginning of the public
life of Jesus. And as we heard, he experienced something new today. He was
rejected. Even despised. And what must have hurt most of all, is that it
was from his own neighbors, people he’d grown up with, from his own
family. He was rejected because he began to carry out the role that God
had called him to carry out: the role of a prophet.
When we speak about Jesus, we speak in terms of Jesus as priest,
prophet and king. We have a feast day, Christ the King, to celebrate his
being a king, but he is a king who ministers and serves and who is poor
and weak, not like a king of this earth. We’re used to thinking of Jesus
as priest because as we celebrate the Eucharist, we know this is what he
did at the Last Supper, making present the offering of himself as he died
on Calvary. But we do not often, I believe, think about Jesus as prophet.
And so we do not often think of ourselves, as we follow Jesus, that we too
must be prophets.
In fact, in the church, as a whole, we don’t give much prominence to
prophets. You look at the category of the saints, and you find martyrs,
you find apostles, you find pastors, you find virgins, you find holy men
and women, but there’s no category of “St. So-and-so, prophet.” And I
think that’s partly because we misunderstand what it means to be a
prophet. A lot of people, I’m sure, would say, “Well a prophet is somebody
who predicts the future, tells us what’s going to happen.” But that’s
certainly something Jesus rejected. He would not, even in response to his
disciples questions, ever try to tell them the future. They wanted to know
“When is the reign of God going to be established?” “When will the kingdom
be restored to Israel?” And Jesus said, “I don’t know, and it’s not
something for you to worry about anyway.”
See, that’s not prophecy, predicting the future, prophecy simply means
speaking God’s word and speaking on behalf of God. Jesus carried out the
role of prophet in a very clear and a very important way. He spoke for
God. In Matthew’s Gospel, at the beginning of his public life we have
recorded that long discourse we call the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus
spoke on behalf of God and God’s values, God’s way and showed us a
radically different way to live in this world. That was prophecy.
He also prophesized by speaking through his actions. Last Sunday’s
Gospel, in that event about the woman who had the affliction of bleeding,
Jesus spoke to us in a couple of ways, by his actions. Remember how she
touched his robe, thinking, “If I just touch his robe, I’ll be cured.” And
she was. But then Jesus wanted to know, “Who touched me?” And she was
afraid; she trembled, but finally came forward. Why was she afraid?
Because Jesus was doing something that spoke very powerfully and it’s
something we have to hear. He was saying that compassion, love, reaching
out to people, is far more important than human customs or human law. He
broke the law by allowing that person to touch him. He welcomed that
touch. He broke the law by speaking to a woman in public. Those were evil
laws. We’re very sure of that now, but not then. People thought that was
the right thing to do, but Jesus said, “No.” Very prophetically he was
telling us that at times human laws might prevent us from following the
way of God. And that can be civil law or it can be ecclesiastical law. So
we have to be very bold and courageous. And listen to what Jesus shows us.
Bold and courageous and following what he teaches us. You could go on
through the Gospels and find many other places where Jesus speaks very
prophetically, very powerfully, and where he acts in a very prophetic way,
but I think you understand what I’m saying.
But one of the things that Jesus learned, as we heard in today’s
Gospel, is the thing that Ezekiel learned: that if you are a prophet, you
may be rejected, you may be ridiculed, you may be even pushed away from
the community of disciples. It’s happened. Ezekiel found that when he
spoke to the people in exile, they refused to listen to him, but God told
Ezekiel, “Whether they hear you or not, that is, whether they follow you
or not, you must proclaim God’s Word, so that they will know that God’s
Word was spoken in their midst.” The same thing is true now. Prophets who
speak up in various ways following the example of Jesus, our prophet, are
rejected, and yet we must have the same conviction and commitment that
Ezekiel had and Jesus had, that we carry out our roles as prophets.
Later this month I’m going to be speaking at the national meeting of a
group called SNAP. It’s the Survivor’s Network of those Abused by Priests.
I think this is a very prophetic group of people. I think they are
speaking out and telling us something very important. I’ve learned much
from them because I’ve come to know many of them well. I find it very sad
that they are pushed away from the church, at least by the leadership of
the church, because they’re asking for justice and reconciliation.
What they’re asking for is something that Pope John Paul II spoke about
in a very powerful and very beautiful way in his World Peace Day statement
of Jan. 1, 2002, the first World Peace Day after 9/11. He was trying to
deal with the question of, “How do you restore order in a world that is so
overwhelmed by violence?” The kind of violence we experienced on 9/11. He
says, “ I’ve often paused to reflect on the persistent question, ‘How do
we restore the moral and social order subjected to such horrific violence?
My recent conviction, confirmed in turn by biblical revelation, is that
the shattered order cannot be fully restored accept by a response that
combines justice with forgiveness. The pillars of true reconciliation are
justice and that special form of love we call forgiveness.” Further on he
says, “Forgiveness is in no way opposed to justice, as if to forgive meant
to overlook the need to right the wrong done. It is rather the fullness of
justice, leading to that tranquility of order which is much more than a
fragile temporary sensation of hostility, involving, as it does, the
deepest healing of the wounds which fester in human hearts. Justice and
forgiveness are both essential to such healing.”
And I find it so sad -- and I’ve experienced this myself -- that the
catholic bishops throughout our country, where so many instances of this
abuse have taken place, refuse to talk to the victims, refuse to provide
justice for the victims. They reject them actually, push them away and it
just intensifies their pain and their hurt that was so devastating when
the abuse happened. I know that the United States Catholic Conference of
Bishops and the bishops in individual dioceses would prefer that the
people of SNAP just keep quiet. But I think they are being truly prophetic
and for the good of the church. I think it’s important that we begin to
listen to them. The deep hurt and the wounds that have been done to our
church by this abuse that went on for so long will never be healed.
They’re willing to forgive, I know, I’ve talked to so many of them, but
there’s no restoration of the shattered moral order unless their
forgiveness is joined by justice for them. If we’re looking for prophets
in our church today, we can look to these people, so wounded in so many
ways, I think, as prophets in our midst.
I’m sure if any of us thought about it we could think of other people
who do show us how to live the role of the prophet. At the end of the
summer, Pope Benedict XVI is going to go to Germany, and he’ll be very
close to the village where Franz Jägerstätter grew up. One person among
the few in Nazi Germany who said “no” to Hitler’s war, who was executed.
He is a prophet in our midst and I pray that when Pope Benedict is there
that he raises up his name as a prophet to teach all of us that part of
what Jesus tells us is that we must reject violence, we must reject war.
That’s a prophet -- Franz Jägerstätter. Many other people are prophets in
our midst and I hope we might, all of us, think about who those prophets
are and then try to model our own lives on theirs.
Perhaps, I can suggest a couple of ways in which we could be prophets.
This morning before Mass, our Pax Christi group met. People in Pax Christi
are committed to the way of nonviolence. We could join that kind of an
organization and become prophetic also, even making perhaps the vow of
nonviolence that they promote. If we struggle, all of us together as a
community, to continue to make this parish community a very vibrant,
living community here in this part of the city and don’t let our church be
closed; if we struggle to continue to carry on the work of mercy that we
do here in this community, we are being prophetic.
Didn’t Jesus say at the beginning of his public life, “The Spirit of
God is upon me. God sends me to proclaim Good News to the poor”? Well, all
the times that we are here and we’re reaching out to the poor, we’re
proclaiming Good News, a prophetic message to the poor so all of us can be
prophetic especially if we continue our commitment to this parish, to make
it alive and vigorous and strong. In our individual lives we also can find
ways to be prophetic. We live in a world where wealth in our culture is
made to seem so important -- as if the goal of our life is to become
wealthy. If we act against that in our lives by trying to live simply, we
are being prophetic.
This morning, then, as we reflect on how Jesus is a prophet -- and
that’s one of his most important roles -- I hope that we will commit
ourselves to follow Jesus in this role, as an individual but also as a
parish community so that we can proclaim God’s Word by how we live, even
more than how we speak. Our actions, our lives speak the Word of God if
we’re following the way of Jesus, and so we pray that we can become,
individually, prophets and as a community, a prophetic community of God’s
As God told Ezekiel, “Maybe no one will listen but at least they will
know that a prophet has been in their midst.” And that could be said of
us. Perhaps no one will listen but if we live according to the way of
Jesus as a prophet, then the world will have to know that God has sent a
prophet into the midst of this world. I pray that we can follow our call
to be prophetic.