Prophets to Our Own
Some of my family are in town this weekend for dedication. Like many families, my family has been following the progress of construction these last 2 years, primarily through the pictures I post on Facebook and the parish website. Some have come out a few times to see it first-hand, ask questions I couldn’t answer, and offer advice on how better to do the job. Actually no, those weren’t family. I just bit my tongue and smiled. If you’ve seen me do it, you know. So when they said they would drive 3 hours from the coast to the Shenandoah Valley over Independence Day weekend, now that COVID restrictions have been relaed, I was glad to play host for a change while I slept in my own bed and made them jealous for living out here. But they’re not staying with me. No-no. I told them I had a dog and a deacon. There wasn’t going to be room for anyone else. And if the cops are summoned, I’m only a couple of exits away on the interstate.
People from large families know that when we get everyone under one roof, especially when there’s an abundance of good food and drink, it can get loud. And it helps that we get along. It hasn’t always been that way. We had to work at it. We owned up to our shared weakness for friendly playful sideswipes, multi-pronged veiled compliments, and flattering non-lethal insults tossed in a blend of showtunes and nerdy movie references and corny jokes. And occasionally we like to invade some sleepy town and go sightseeing and behave like tourists, to the mall, the beach, to church, posing for pictures, laughing out loud, talking non-stop, eating like pigs. I know my parents are pleased to see us all get along just fine most of the time, not that that’s unusual. I say most of the time because with that many loud people in close quarters, there’s bound to be rockets glaring and bombs bursting. We used to have a few of those, over the most insignificant things, I might add. Most arguments just aren’t worth the aggravation. And over the years I have come to know my family better. My conclusions are nothing new or earth-shattering. But my eyes have been opened.
First, with one particular individual in mind, ordinary conversation can get as loud as an oncoming train. And if you can ignore the noise, you can easily attend to other things. It can look like we yell at each other a lot, but in a friendly way.
Second, we argue about the most trivial things, as I’m sure you do among your own family. I sometimes have more patience with rude drivers who cut me off than I have with my own family. I suppose we are often harder on the people we know and love. It probably makes sense most of us move far away from home as soon as we get the chance. If you or your kids don’t move far enough away, it’s probably because laundry and dinner privileges are more highly prized than sanity.
It can sometimes be more difficult to see God at work or hear God speaking through those we love. And just as with Jesus’ family in today’s gospel, it seems we are more inclined to judge others harshly at home, to question their motives, be critical of their success, and be suspicious of the respect they have earned. “Where did this man get all this? What kind of wisdom has been given him? What mighty deeds are wrought by his hands? Is he not the carpenter, the son of Mary, and the brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? Are not his sisters here with us?”
The challenge before us today is that we are called to be signs of God’s love right in our own households, among our own family, and in our own neighborhood. Jesus reminds us prophets don’t get much respect at home. And before we conclude we must be prophets because he was, we might focus rather on being better signs of God’s love like he was. Prophets have not fared well historically, so I suggest we work at becoming less abrasive, more joyful, and more inviting witnesses to God’s love and compassion. It might be easier to give witness to the faith before those who have no knowledge of our history. For similar reasons, it can be easier to find our purpose and calling away from home, where we are judged by our efforts and accomplishments, not for what we did in the second grade or how we didn’t eat all our vegetables or get straight A’s in school. Jesus was concerned about his family’s and neighbors’ lack of faith, but it didn’t stifle his enthusiasm for the gospel or put him on the defensive. He loved them still despite their lack of faith, and he understood he would have to work harder with that crowd, and there would still be some who would not give him a fair hearing no matter what he said or did. In the end, his sacrifice on the cross would embrace and heal all, even the “hard of face and obstinate of heart.” God does not give up trying. The objective is to draw people to repentance and reconciliation, not to alienate them or get killed.
Jesus sends us to those we love to give witness to God’s good news of welcome and compassion with patience and perseverance. We don’t really have to be bearers of bad news charging in with self-righteousness and pride, as we are sometimes inclined to do, where the choices are not as radically defined as heaven and hell, or life and death, or right and wrong. I don’t mean there are not situations that warrant such an approach. But when it comes down to helping change a person’s attitude or inform their perspective, a true messenger of God’s Word works in the service of that Word, through persuasion and persistence. Jesus alone is the Messiah. None of us are, nor do we only have three years to win people over. Besides, we could be more convincing prophets if we multiplied loaves and fish, or walked on water, or raised the dead. Jesus possessed such powers yet achieved the greatest good by his passion, death, and resurrection. If the goal is to preach God’s Word so that others would desire reconciliation and reform their lives, we might succeed better with honey than with vinegar. Threats and insults will not impress people with intelligence and experience. Not surprisingly, they tend not to impress the unintelligent and inexperienced either. Rather, a more persuasive approach might produce better results especially with those we know and love, our own family, friends, and neighbors. I know it would with mine.
There will be many more occasions to give witness to God’s love when we gather with family. The gospel message will still be the same. But when we are more awake to opportunities for kindness and gentle persuasion and more intentional about raising up rather than sowing discord and ill-will, we might get better results. Our conversations will still be annoyingly loud. But we can purposely be less confrontational, more patient and accommodating, so we will soften hard faces and melt obstinate hearts. And the Good News of God’s mercy will be heard, and confidence will be restored, and healing can begin. I say aim to be an effective prophet, not a dead one.
Rolo B Castillo © 2021