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July 8, 2018 Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time Homily

Today I’d like to reflect a little on the role of the prophet who, arguably, has the most difficult of all vocations. There are two kinds of prophets; false prophets and true prophets.

False prophets support and sustain people in their illusions about life and about themselves; they encourage self-deception. True prophets always attack self-deception and try to lead people, individuals and communities; into the way God sees things.

Every true prophet is a victim, a victim of the word of God which God has placed in his heart and which he is compelled to proclaim. A prophet is a man trapped. If he does not speak the word, which turns us against him, the word itself will turn on him.

A prophet must sacrifice everything to the word.

A prophet can not be misled or disturbed or awed by loud voices or appearances because he has the gift, which allows him to identify and keep his eyes on the truth of every matter. He is one who can see in the dark – whose eyes pierce the obscurity created by confusing facts and public opinion.

They said, ‘Where did the man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been granted him, and these miracles that are worked through him? This is the carpenter, surely, the son of Mary, the brother of James and Joseph and Jude and Simon? His sisters, too, are they not here with us?’

Undoubtedly these were the facts. The people knew them all and listed them carefully and confidently and the end result of their knowing the facts was that: they would not accept him. But prophets don’t deal in facts, they deal in truth. They are trapped by truth as we are ensnared by facts.

God’s prophet can see past the facts to the truth. He is that rare man who can say of himself: I am not confused. Beyond all human certainty he sees as God sees – from within, from above – clearly.

Because he speaks the truth and because we are steeped in lies, a prophet is always confronting. He speaks truths that are hidden from us and from which we hide. He takes us by surprise, catches us off guard. His words are confronting because they are always about the God we forget, or about ourselves, whom we think we know.

Well, let’s look at the Gospel.

At first sight you would think the townspeople in the gospel had taken leave of their senses. They recognize the wisdom of Jesus’ words, they admit to the miraculous nature of his deeds, and then, strangely, they reject him.

They have the evidence of greatness before them but they cannot bring themselves to accept it. What is the explanation for this startling state of affairs?

Listen again to the townspeople’s complaint: This is the carpenter, surely, the son of Mary, the brother of James and Joseph and Jude and Simon? His sisters, too, are they not here with us?’ And they would not accept him.

Do you see how they are arguing for the familiar, the known, and the comfortable? They are rehearsing to themselves what they know, or think they know, about Jesus, what they are comfortable with.

For the townspeople of Jesus hometown to accept his wisdom and his miraculous gifts would mean having to accept a number of other things as well.

They would have had to accept that they had somehow been blind to the prophet in their midst and to admit this to one another. I think they were afraid of doing that. The very way they seem to insist on what they know about Jesus shows their discomfort, and I believe it was discomfort to the point of fear; fear of the unknown.

There are many things we do, and refuse to do, out of fear. Beginning a real prayer life is perhaps one of the most common. To become a person of real prayer is to bring about a radical definition of one’s life and values.

Giving up smoking or alcohol does the same thing. When a cigarettes smoker gives up smoking he thinks he would never be happy again. With alcohol it’s even worse, apparently. Many alcoholics report that they don’t give up because they don’t know how they would deal with all those hours in a day if they were sober; it would require becoming an entirely new person, and for many that is just too frightening to contemplate.

All this leaves us with the question: What am I afraid of beginning or of leaving behind in order to become the kind of person I know I am really called to be?

The townspeople were so frightened by this they asked Jesus to leave the district! Can you imagine! They asked the one person who could bring them salvation – to leave!

God’s prophet can see past the facts to the truth. He is that rare man who can say of himself: I am not confused. Beyond all human certainty he sees as God sees – from within, from above – clearly.

Because he speaks the truth and because we are steeped in lies, a prophet is always confronting. He speaks truths that are hidden from us and from which we hide. He takes us by surprise, catches us off guard. His words are confronting because they are always about the God we forget, or about ourselves, whom we think we know.

We live sometimes so deeply embedded in untruths or half-truths that to hear the words of a prophet is to feel assaulted, insulted, humiliated. In his words we see a thief who is trying to steal from us our carefully crafted illusions and though his words may be whispered, the whisper of truth, we hear them as the shout of a bully.

Each age seeks its own ways to dismiss the prophet He is never welcome; he must be eliminated from the scene. A prophet says precisely what we do not wish to hear. He spoils our fun. He warns us of consequences we deny. He tells us we are wrong.

A prophet is the archenemy of the liar, even should the liar be an entire nation, a whole planet. He still overturns us because he cares for us and about us. He loves us.

He has responsibility for us because he is one of us. His life is bound to ours. He takes us more seriously than we take ourselves. He is our shepherd – the shepherd of God’s flock. The prophet is a sentry who never sleeps. He warns us about the enemy who approaches from afar and the one who emerges from within – fuelled by the power of our disordered hearts and our evil actions.

The prophet is therefore always warning us about ourselves who are so ready to displease God – to find our own way. He is close to God and calls us to be close to God – to listen and obey. A prophet calls us to be reconciled to God – and to one another.

 

 

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