Saint Ignatius High School

Making a Prophet

To be a prophet is never easy. Throughout the Old Testament God sends individuals into the midst of the Chosen People to bring them His message. Maybe prophets should begin their preaching with the disclaimer, “Don’t shoot the messenger.” Why? Read on.

Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

First Reading: Ezekiel 2:2-5
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 123:1-4
Second Reading: St. Paul’s 2nd Letter to the Corinthians 12:7-10
Gospel: According to St. Mark 6:1-6
“A prophet is not without honor except in his native place.”
Whenever I hear this expression I first think of Linus in “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.”   To be a prophet is never an easy task.  Throughout the Old Testament God sends individuals, like Ezekiel in this weekend’s first reading, into the midst of the Chosen People to bring them His message.  Sadly for the prophets, the message is seldom happy and reassuring.
In the New Testament things are often the same, as we see in the second reading with St. Paul who speaks here of insults, hardships and persecutions.  It can make one wonder why a person would ever answer God’s call.  Wouldn’t it be better to just try to fit in and get along?

Maybe prophets should begin their preaching with the disclaimer, “Don’t shoot the messenger.”  I think of this in class sometimes when we deal with some of the hard sayings from Jesus that have been delivered through His Church.  I will hear a student respond that the Church is being ‘mean’ when She proclaims a teaching of Christ that gets under our 21st Century American skin.  We often forget that the source of that ‘mean’ teaching is Jesus, and we often forget that Jesus Himself is the source of the quote with which I began.
We all like to be told that what we are doing is good.  We don’t like to be told that we have strayed from the right path and that we are actually doing something that is harmful to others and to ourselves.  We have been taught, by Jesus no less, that we should not judge or we will be judged.  True enough, but maybe we need to understand that Jesus must mean this in a very specific way otherwise he is contradicting Himself.  If I say to someone who I think is being judgmental, “Judge not, lest ye be judged,” I am judging him.  Oops.  I am doing to him what I perceive that he is doing to someone else.
So, how can we use the teaching of Jesus and not be self-contradictory?  We must distinguish between judging people – which we can never do – and judging actions and beliefs.  For the Church to say that an activity is wrong or that a belief is not correct is very different than for the Church to say that a person is bad or damned.  Spiritual health can here be related to physical health.  Imagine a doctor who thinks it would be mean to tell patients that a habit that they love, like smoking, could kill them.  It is because of the concern that the doctor has for the patient that the truth must be told.  Christ is the Great Physician and He gives us these warnings all the time and for our own good.
Each era has its own prevailing beliefs, and the heroes of one era can easily become the demons of another.  The “rebels who had rebelled” against God in the first reading were the heroes of the day, but we see them in a different light.  It was the job of Ezekiel to let them know that they were not speaking for God, even though they were the popular people promoting the accepted beliefs of the day.  Ezekiel spoke for God, and God told Ezekiel that he needed to give the message whether the people “heed or resist” the message.
The play “A Man for All Seasons” is about St. Thomas More and how he stood almost alone against the prevailing beliefs of the day.  The title refers to the fact that More was a man who stood by his convictions when it was easy to do so and, more importantly, when it was difficult to do so – in all seasons.  Because of his steadfast beliefs More had his head separated from his shoulders at the order of his former friend, King Henry VIII.
More was only siding with those who could not be swayed by the winds of popularity – a group that includes Ezekiel and St. Paul and is led by the One Who was without honor in His own native place, the One to Whom the people took offense. 
Thus, the choice confronted by More is one that each Christian, to a greater or lesser degree, must face.  Will we be like Ezekiel, St. Paul, and Thomas More? Will we leave a legacy where it can be said that “They shall know that a prophet has been among them”?  Or, will we follow the crowd of rebels and kings, and have Jesus be “amazed” not with our courageous witness, but with our lack of faith?