Look into the eyes of children and ask yourself: am I a prophet? There are many to whom people look to as prophets – weather forecasters, sports commentators, political poll takers, bloggers of all shades, media and theatrical celebrities.
My sister once seemed like a prophet to me when I was little. We six kids and my mother were in the kitchen making our own hamburger patties for supper. My mother left the room and someone thought it would be a great idea to see who could throw their patty the highest without touching the ceiling. My sister predicted that we were going to get into trouble. She was right. One brother threw his so strongly that it momentarily stuck to the ceiling. Just as it was ready to give into the law of gravity, my mother returned. It came down with a plop. Strangely she didn’t seem to care who won the competition. My sister was not a prophet only wiser than the rest us by using her common sense. We should have listened to her.
My sister and all the others so many look to are not prophets in the biblical sense. A prophet in the biblical sense is not a fatalist or a gatherer of information or a good guesser. A true prophet reminds us of God’s presence in our lives and in the world who wants what is best for us. Trusting in him and seeking to live his way will result in greater happiness and peace rather than relying on self or the pressure of the secular culture. He or she is one who understands the consequences of our behaviors and then challenges us so that we will make good and moral choices for our salvation and that of others. Someone said, “The world is dark, and human agony is excruciating, but the prophet casts light by which the heart is led into the thinking of the Lord’s mind.” Prophets who open our hearts to the Lord’s mind are often seen as out of date or stick in the muds or religious zealots. It has ever been thus with true prophets. They often are reluctant messengers.
Ezekiel in our first reading, a prophet in Old Testament days, was sent to a rebellious house as Scripture puts it. His basic message began with the words ‘Thus says the Lord God,’ Unless you reform your ways and live up to the covenant you made with God you will pay the consequences.” And they did. He was rejected but preached the truth as the Lord called him to do.
St. Paul in the 2nd reading was a New Testament prophet who concluded, “I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions and constraints, for the sake of Christ, for when I am weak, then I am strong.” The rootedness of prophets is to live and model all for the sake of Christ whatever the consequences. Paul of course suffered much and ultimately was martyred for preaching Christ crucified and risen.
Jesus was the ultimate Prophet and Messiah. But as the Gospel reading details he was not well received either by some who knew him best, the folks in his hometown of Nazareth. The Gospel tells us they took offense at him: “Is he not the carpenter”, seeing him as just a man who worked with his hands. “Is he not the son of Mary”, not recognizing what being the son of Mary meant. “A prophet is not without honor except in his native place,” Jesus commented.
Jesus had spent some 30 years living among these very people while as Scripture notes he grew in wisdom. One would think they would be delighted to know one of their own touched and healed and offered hope. Instead many were astonished and rejected him.
Why we might ask. We of course cannot know; none of us can seek into the hearts of others. What we do know is that in his day and in every culture there can be a cast like system where some look down on others for a variety of faulty reasons. Likely the sins of envy and jealousy were present. Recall that two of the Ten Commandants relate to coveting what is rightly others. It is a sin we all need to be alert for. Envy, someone said, “is the art of counting another’s blessings instead of our own.” The antidote to envy is to thank God for the gifts of others and pray they use them well, and then count our own blessings and use them well.
The Church instituted by Christ is a prophet and more. The Church assumes her prophetic role as we as her body continue to stand up for the teachings of Christ on justice, marriage, gender ideology, abortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide, immigrants, the poor, and the persecuted, always with humility and charity. These teachings are grounded in the truth that we are all children of God and every person is deserving of respect and the opportunity to live in dignity. The Church also prophetically calls us to be good stewards of God’s creation which has been given us only for a time to be passed on to the generations to follow until Christ comes again. We ought to do so because it is part of our baptismal promises having assumed the name Christian, missionary disciples of Christ, and because we love the children.
There is a whimsical verse that haunts me and which I have referred to before that begs the question whether we are prophets to the young. It goes: “I saw tomorrow marching by on little children’s feet. Within their forms and faces read her prophecy complete. I saw tomorrow look at me from little children’s eyes, and thought how carefully we’d teach if we were really wise.” Look into the eyes of little children and ask yourself: what am I teaching them by what I say and do, or do not say and do not do. Surely they are watching and learning from us.
May we as missionary disciples of Christ witness to the truth of the Gospel, allowing the Holy Spirit to guide us each day, giving good example in our word and deed, confident in God’s presence, love and mercy. May we do so especially for the children.