31 January 2016
4th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
The two friends sat down opposite one another. They were still relatively new at getting to know each other, but a line had been crossed, and so they needed to sit down and talk about it. And the one friend said to other, “I can’t put up with this anymore. I think you’re a good person; but you have to stop doing this.” And the friend said, “Ok, I’ll try.” To which the other replied, “Thank you; because the way things are now, we couldn’t be friends for very long.” And, as it happened, the warning went unheeded. The friendship ended.
Now, right in the middle of this story is the idea of “prophecy.” A prophet isn’t necessarily a mystical person who sees into the future, and has all sorts of hidden knowledge of things. Most often, a prophet is just somebody who’s able to look at a situation and interject the truth of things into that situation. A prophet is somebody who “speaks the truth in love.”
We see that happen in this story of the two friends. The one friend said: “The way things are now, we couldn’t be friends for very long.” There’s a situation they’re in, and that one friend is able to see the obvious truth of things . . . that if the relationship didn’t change, it would necessarily come to an end. Just then, that friend was a prophet to the other; speaking the truth in love.
And that’s a characteristic of all the prophets we encounter in Scripture. There’s Jeremiah, whom we heard from today; and Isaiah and Ezekiel, Moses, Elijah and Elisha, Zechariah, and a whole bunch of them. Jesus was a prophet; he spoke the truth in love; he could look at the situation of humanity and see where it was going. No magic involved. And it’s a characteristic of all prophecies that they can be accepted or rejected.
When God sent the prophets out, he told them straightaway: Expect resistance. The Lord said it very clearly to Jeremiah: “They will fight against you.” And, of course, Jesus knew that his words of truth and love would be resisted. I don’t imagine it surprised him in the least to be rejected there in the synagogue at Nazareth. There’s always the risk of rejection and ridicule when we try “to speak the truth with love;” when we try to be a prophet. But it’s a risk the prophet takes because he or she speaks with love.
Christ calls us to love God, and to love another. And so, the idea of “prophecy” is just part of life for us, because love is a part of life for us—it’s the greatest thing, according to St Paul. Sometimes, the best way to love somebody is to take the risk and speak the truth to them (and for them). You know, if we see a friend or a loved one who’s making some poor choices in life (let’s say, with drugs), it’s prophetic of us to say, “Hey, if you keep doing drugs, you’re going to fry your brain or end up dead—I’m just telling you (because I care about you).”
Or, say somebody is being a grouch at work, and it’s affecting others, it’s prophetic of us to say, “You know, I see you’re grouchy all the time—what’s up?” They may not even know it. But a little bit of prophetic truth and love might snap them out of it. Of course, the flip side of being a prophet for others, is to let others be a prophet to us. And that’s maybe just as a hard as speaking the truth with love, because hearing the truth with humility isn’t something that’s easy.
You know, in the Church, there are dwindling numbers of priests. And there dwindling numbers of parishioners. Things are kind of on a downward trend. And that’s just the truth of the situation. And that prophetic word is hard to hear. It’s hard to hear. But it’s spoken with love so that the Christian people will wake up and realize that a new course must be taken. Prophecy nudges us (and even pushes us) onto another path.
But there’s always the question: “Who do you listen to?” There are prophets all around us, on the internet, in the news, in politics, in the Church who are trying to “read the signs of the times” and offer direction. “Who do you listen to?” That’s always a good question.
Now, I’ve always found libraries to be neat places. And one day when I was going into the library, it hit me that: I don’t have to agree with everything that’s in these books. And that sounds so obvious, but it was like a revelation at the time. Not everything in a book (not everything on the internet) was necessarily true. And that just opened the world up; of course, it made things more confusing, too, because I had to answer that question: “Who do you listen to? Who has the truth? Who is really speaking prophetic words?”
And to help with that, it’s important to have teachers in our life; people we really trust—because they’re good, loving, honest, humble. Even as adults, we need teachers. Hopefully, you can trust the Church to be a teacher about who’s a good person to listen to, and who’s maybe not the best person to listen to.
Besides that, check other people out. If you hear a politician say something that sounds prophetic, see what his or her background is. Are they qualified to make such a statement about “the signs of the times?” Do they genuinely have the best interests of the common good at heart? Are they humble? Are they themselves open to correction? If somebody’s trying to be a prophet to you, check ‘em out.
But, of course, that also requires us to do our homework. Now, this is the start of Catholic Schools Week, and one of the tools we’re hopefully teaching ourselves and our youth is the skill of critical thinking. For example, study history; look at the big over-arching themes and movements of ages past, and see if history is repeating itself today. If it is, then we can interject some truth where maybe there needs to be some.
Study logic. Learn about the ways arguments are formed, and what (objectively) makes for a solid argument, and what makes for shaky arguments. Some truths people might try to sell us look good. But if we see their argument is full of holes, the whole thing falls apart—that’s a clue: “Don’t listen to that person.”
Study human nature. You know, it’s one thing to see the truth about something. And it’s another to prophesy that truth to someone with love. Study human nature to see how people react when something they don’t want to hear is brought to their attention. It helps when you’re trying to be a prophet to someone else with love.
There’s no quick answer (that I know of) to that question: “Who do you listen to? Or which prophets in the world should I pay attention to?” There’s no one-size-fits-all answer. But, as I said, it’s important to have a teacher we can trust. And we have that in the person of Jesus Christ.
Even though the Jews there in the synagogue couldn’t appreciate the prophetic word of Jesus, hopefully we can. After all, he speaks the truth to us with love. We know that in faith. He and we are, perhaps, like those two friends sitting across from one another. A prophetic word is spoken in love. But will we listen? Will we listen . . . and respond?