01 February 2010

Proclaiming Bravely the Truth of God's Love

4th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C) – 31 January 2010

Readings: Jer 1:4-5, 17-19; Ps 71:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 15-17; 1 Cor 12:31—13:13 or 13:4-13; Lk 4:21-30

Our Gospel passage today is a continuation of the story last Sunday. Here we listen to the reaction of Jesus’ hometown crowd to His message. It went from condescending amazement to irate contempt to attempted murder. But it was not yet His time, and so – as the Gospel tersely puts it – He “passed through the midst of them and went away”.

The theme of the Readings this Sunday is that of “prophecy”. The First Reading describes the call of the prophet Jeremiah. In the Gospel, Jesus utters the infamous line: “no prophet is accepted in his own native place”.

For the ancient Greeks, prophecy is the gift of discerning the will of the gods. In the Judaeo-Christian tradition, prophets are chosen by God to communicate His message to the community. We Christians, at baptism, become sharers in Christ’s three-fold mission as king, priest, and prophet.

1. Prophecy is in the service of the word of God.

In the Old Testament, the message of the prophets usually begins with “dabar Yahweh”, “this is the word of Yahweh…”, “Yahweh says…”, “thus spoke Yahweh…” This signifies that the words of the prophets are not their own but God’s, and their mission is to transmit them faithfully to the people.

There is a common characteristic among prophecies in the Old Testament: they are constant reminders to the people. Prophecies generally offer not some new teaching but a reiteration of some aspect of the Law or the whole spirit of it, e.g., on true worship, on justice and love of the poor, on making right alliances , etc.

Here's a bit of a digression... These past few days were a time of great spiritual blessing and renewal for us priests in the Philippines. We gathered recently for the 2nd National Congress of the Clergy. The talks were great and relevant but in retrospect there was nothing much there that most of us haven’t known already. Still, we found much inspiration and consolation in them. What Father Cantalamesa and Bishop Tagle did was to remind us of the great gift of the priesthood and why we chose this way of life in the first place.

How many times have we heard, or even used these lines: "Habo ko nang pagtaraman iyan, aram na niya an tama asin sala." (I don’t need to talk to him/her about it, he/she already knows what’s right and wrong.) Or "Dai mo ako pagtaraman, aram ko an piggigibo ko." (Don’t tell me what to do, I know what I am doing.) If these were true, then there’s not much need for many of the books of the Old Testament.

The truth is we need God’s constant reminder on how to live meaningfully happy lives. Nobody is too young or old, too wise or dumb, too rich or poor, too mighty or weak, not to need constant reminders. And since God creates all things, He speaks to us through all things: through the wisdom of the young and the old, the ways of the rich and mighty as well as those of the poor and the weak, the lessons learned by the wise and the foolish; through the circumstances of our lives; and especially through Sacred Scriptures.

2. Prophecy is a work of love.

St. Paul in 1 Cor 13,1-3 (in the Second Reading) states: “If I speak in human and angelic tongues, but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal. And if I have the gift of prophecy, and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.”

Prophecy is all about truth-telling. But when truth is used without love, it can be a weapon of destruction. It can destroy self-esteem, reputation, even lives. Let us remember this when we feel compelled to speak about right and wrong to a friend or to a community in need of guidance.

God sent prophets to His wayward people because of His love for them. Prophets, even when their words sting, still transmit God’s love and guidance to His people.

3. Prophecy is expressed in the life of the prophet.

And the lives of the prophets are not easy. Almost always they are met with opposition, suspicion and persecution. Jesus several times reminded the Jews what their forefathers did to the prophets of their time: they killed them. Jesus the prophet follows the same path as the prophets of old.

The Gospel story this Sunday is but one of many instances that Jesus’ message and person met rejection. It is also a solemn reminder to his followers that engaging in prophetic ministry is fraught with difficulties. But this should not dishearten us.

When rejection comes, it has to be acknowledged – and analyzed. Maybe it happened because our truth-telling was lacking in love, and so more love is required. Or because our intended recipient or audience was not yet ready, and so more patience is required. But there are types of rejection that seek to discourage us from pursuing the good that we do or intimidate us into giving up.

Dr. Kent M. Keith wrote his “Paradoxical Commandments” as a way of dealing with the debilitating effects of rejection, thus challenging it in his own terms.

“People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered. Love them anyway.

If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives. Do good anyway.

If you are successful, you will win false friends and true enemies. Succeed anyway.

The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway.

Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable. Be honest and frank anyway.

The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men and women with the smallest minds. Think big anyway.

People favor underdogs but follow only top dogs. Fight for a few underdogs anyway.

What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight. Build anyway.

People really need help but may attack you if you do help them. Help people anyway.

Give the world the best you have and you'll get kicked in the teeth. Give the world the best you have anyway.”

There is another version, attributed to Blessed Theresa of Calcutta. It ends with:

"Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough, give the world the best you've got anyway.

You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway."

In the First Reading, when God called Jeremiah, He was quite clear about the resistance and persecution His prophet will face in pursuing his mission. God was also quite clear about another thing: that He will be with Him all the way assuring his victory.

Jer 1,19 says:” They will fight against you but not prevail over you, for I am with you to deliver you, says the LORD.”

Prophecy means proclaiming bravely the truth of God's love. God is calling. Are you willing to become prophets for our time?

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