I am not a prophet. I don’t even play one on TV. Besides, a lot of things about a prophet that we learn in the scriptures today do not appeal to me. It seems hardly a profession or way of life anyone would go into willingly. Prophets are often not welcome; they are seldom appreciated – unless they bring good news, which does not happen very often; sometimes they are feared; at times they are not taken seriously; at times they are ridiculed; in many instances they are treated badly; and most peculiarly, they are honored with great rejoicing only after they are dead and gone. It is no wonder they have few friends; they choose to live differently from what most people consider normal; they might dress funny or at least unconventionally; people expect them to behave strangely sometimes – like sometimes they can be too intense; and because they might say things not everyone understands or is willing to accept, people will smile at them with that knowing look, as if to say, “He has no idea what he’s talking about.” Exactly! Just like that!
Prophets, we can all safely agree, are sent by God to speak to us those things that are of great concern to God. Unlike the media-savvy celebrity handlers of the modern age, God does not send telegrams, text messages, voice mail, regular mail, or email. God does not log onto Facebook or twitter or any of the other common social communication tools. God does not have a publicist; God does not hold press conferences. God does not do radio or TV interviews. God does not conduct popularity polls to see what people are saying about him. We all know people who will repeat something someone else said, even something a prophet said, something wise or inspiring or profound, and then two seconds later, they are back to spouting statements that are juvenile, mindless, malicious, or absurd. Prophets don’t talk just because they enjoy talking, or because the silence is awkward. They don’t pronounce glad tidings to make people like them. Nor do they confront the burning issues of our day because they enjoy the thrill of poking at wild animals in cages.
Instead, prophets are often reluctant participants in some master plan only God can see in full. They will even sometimes argue with God because of the hardships and inconveniences they have to endure. Yet somehow there were also those more accepting, more resigned to their state in life. It was the reluctant prophet Jeremiah who said, “I say I will not mention him, I will no longer speak in his name. But then it is as if fire is burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones; I grow weary holding back, I cannot!” (Jeremiah 20:9) When God calls one to be a prophet to speak in God’s name, they can only resist for a time. In the end, God’s will is accomplished whether we participate willingly or not. And God has the luxury of choosing the best candidates right from the get-go.
So when Jesus experienced resistance from his listeners, some of the more vocal ones were people who claimed they knew him well, his own family and those of his hometown. It is important to note that the gospel of Mark from which we read in this lectionary cycle B, a whole lot of people do not come out looking good. Even Jesus’ closest friends appear clueless and dense, unable to recognize his divine purpose, despite his words, his signs, and their time in close proximity with him. But we are familiar with that sort of attitude. In general, we tend to be more welcoming of someone who comes to us from afar, some hotshot celebrity we might actually pay to hear speak, who sells troves of books and CDs and DVDs so we can possess and have easy access to their wisdom at all times, such people in the know to speak a message that challenges us to grow, than it is to hear our own parents tell us to pick up the slack, or to hear our teachers tell us we’re not measuring up to our potential, or to hear our pastors tell us to get off our backs and get involved in the life of the parish. We wouldn’t pay a dime to hear any of that. Yet the message they speak can be just as timely and challenging.
More than anyone else, prophets are aware of their own limitations. They will seldom claim to be perfect. St. Paul was well aware of his own limitations. After his conversion experience, he had some assurance he was finally on the right track, doing what God wanted him to do. But he eventually understood he would sometimes face opposition. And knowing God’s grace would sustain him in his weakness, he did not lose heart in the face of resistance and ridicule. If perfection was necessary to a prophet before we listen to one speak, we end up listening to no one; which also means no one should be listening to us. Instead, if we can get past their flaws, their quirks and mannerisms, their accent, their choice of attire, their external appearance, their scent, their timing, their politics, their religious preference, their sport team allegiance, (anything else?), … if we can get past all that, we just might hear something that is of great concern to God, something God might want to tell us, something to help us mature into better Christians.
Even God’s anointed was not immune from the resistance and opposition of his generation. Jesus knew the frustration that accompanies the task of proclaiming God’s word to a people “hard of face and obstinate of heart.” God tells Ezekiel to persevere and not be discouraged. And God tells the prophets of our age to proclaim with courage the good news of his compassion, mercy, and salvation. “And whether they heed or resist — for they are a rebellious house — they shall know that a prophet has been among them.”
I am not a prophet, have never made such a claim, don’t want the job. But God will not be deterred from getting his message across. God will even entrust his purpose to the reluctant and the flawed. By our baptism, we are entrusted the same message of reconciliation and hope that Jesus proclaimed. By our baptism, we have each been sent to witness in this age and among this people to the love of God by how we live our lives. I am not a prophet, just as none of you are prophets. But if we desire to be authentic disciples of Jesus Christ, we cannot walk away from the task of proclaiming good news. Most, if not all, of the prophets God has sent and continues to send, will encounter resistance and opposition; some to the point of suffering and the shedding of their blood. We serve a Master who was not spared a humiliating death. He is God’s own Word. How can we expect to be treated better than him?
Scripture does not bring us today a message of consolation, but a summons to heed the call to discipleship, the call to be prophets, the call to boldly proclaim by our words and our lives the message of salvation that comes to us through Jesus Christ. If I am a prophet, so are you. so get out there and get to work.