Sunday, September 27, 2009

Prophetic Witness

Lectionary Readings are from the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B.
Saturday night, we celebrated the Parish Feast Day of Saint Michael the Archangel (normally 29 September), but we used the Sunday readings. On Sunday the whole Mass will be the regular Sunday Mass for the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time.

1. Would that all the people of the LORD were prophets! (Numbers 11:29). These words spoken by Moses to Joshua, have been fulfilled in the sacrament of Baptism. At least in terms of through Baptism, God has bestowed the gift of His Spirit upon each one of us and chosen us to be part of His prophetic people. All of us, young or old, regardless of our situation are entrusted with the mission to be a prophet of the Most High God.
2. But what is a prophet? Some would define a prophet as someone who is able to announce future events before they happen. Certainly this could be part of a prophetic utterance. But in the ancient world people went to the Oracle at Delphi for that kind of prophecy, so telling is not really the main task of a prophet in the Judeo Christian tradition. A prophet is one who announces God’s word to others. But prophecy is not a matter of simply proclaiming out loud the words of the Bible- although that too is part of it. For example, if someone was to record themselves reading the whole Bible out loud so as to distribute it to others, that fact alone would not mean that they were a prophet. Anyone can read words on a page.
3. The other day, I heard someone define a prophet as someone who speaks the Truth. That is a very good definition, as long as we understand that Truth is objectively real. Truth is not a matter of majority opinion, nor is truth something that seems true to me, but could be different for you. For something to be true, it must always be true for everyone in every situation, and does not depend on others believing it to have the power of the truth. To speak the Truth means to speak the word of God, not only in proclaiming the Bible, but in applying God’s word to the particular circumstances of life.
4. Observe the second reading from the Letter of James. He is being a prophetic witness in rebuking those who would build up treasure on earth and neglect the treasure in heaven. He reproves those who have obtained these goods at the expense of those who are poor and weak. Their stored up worldly wealth will serve to condemn those who trust in anything other than God. James continues by stating You have condemned; you have murdered the righteous one; he offers you no resistance (James 5:6). That is, these sins against charity have been violence against Jesus Christ Himself, who has aligned Himself with the poorest of the poor.
5. In the Gospel, Jesus likewise warns those who would lead children or other “little ones” into sin. It would be better to be drowned than to cause others to sin. The sayings about cutting one’s foot or hand off or one’s eyes, the Church does not interpret as Jesus asking us to mutilate ourselves. Rather, Jesus is warning us that Hell is a real possibility and that nothing is worth losing the kingdom of heaven.
6. Being a prophetic witness is not all about saying things that sound negative, for the Truth of God’s Word is freeing. In the Gospel, Jesus likewise says that Anyone who gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ, amen, I say to you, will surely not lose his reward. How easy it is to gain a reward: simply to serve others out of love for Christ. Just before this Gospel passage, Jesus told His disciples that welcoming a child was the same as welcoming Him. These truths that we can live and proclaim are also part of being a prophet.
7. So when we stand up for the rights of the downtrodden- such as the elderly, the sick, the children, the unborn, the persecuted; when we write letters to convince public officials to do the right thing, when we vote according to a well formed Christian conscience, when we teach our children service instead of selfishness, that is being a prophet.
8. This evening as part of our parish feast we are going to honor and bless those who serve us as law enforcement officers, firefighters, and emergency medical workers. These people have a unique opportunity for public witness of the Truth of God’s love and the reality that we are all created in the Image and Likeness of God. And sometimes, these men and women give their own lives in service of others. To imitate the Living Word of God Jesus Christ in self sacrifice for the good of others is a profound prophetic act.
9. That is most crucial to being a prophet- it is not all about words, but it is about deeds. Jesus did not merely talk about loving our neighbor and forgiving them and obeying the Father. He lived in even unto His own death on the Cross. He did so not only to save those who knew they were poor and weak, but even to save those who shouted for Him to be crucified. At the end of Mass, we will be sent forth in the peace of Christ to proclaim the Gospel to every creature. Would that all the people of the LORD were prophets!

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