By MARIEFE REVOLLIDO
Aglipay Central Theological Seminary
Psalm 123:1-2, 3-4
2 Corinthians 12:7-10
The call and the commission of the prophet Ezekiel are recounted in this brief passage. Ezekiel was a prophet during the period of the Exile in Israel’s history. This was a tumultuous time for the Israelites as their identity was stripped from them by the foreign superpower of Babylon. The exile was a consequence of the people’s rebellion against God. In the midst of the rebellion of most of the nation of Israel, Ezekiel was called to proclaim the truth of God to them. Today’s first reading recounts the call of Ezekiel. It was not an easy mission to which he was called. God warned Ezekiel that most of the people would not listen to him. God said to Ezekiel, “whether they heed or resist…they shall know that a prophet has been among them.” This illustrates that Ezekiel’s role was not to change people’s hearts. It was simply to convey the message. It was up to the recipients to respond either with reception or rejection. Still, Ezekiel was to proclaim the word of the Lord to the people, regardless of whether they heeded it or resisted it. He courageously accepted that mission.
In our second reading from 2 Corinthians 12, we see St. Paul asking God to take away his weakness. But Paul comes to understand that God wants to use him, not despite his weakness, but because of his weakness. Because of his weakness God’s power can more clearly shine through him without being obscured by Paul’s natural talents and gifts.
In the four short verses we see Paul break open the meaning of his own apostleship by situating it squarely within the paradox of the cross of Jesus. He does this by trading paradoxes. He turns the contrasts exalted/humbled and power/weakness upside down, stripping them of their customary guise and clothing them with startling new meaning. Paul was not complacent in his suffering, he did not unquestioningly accept this hardship. He prayed to be relieved of it, not once or twice, but three times. All his correspondence shows that his ministry and not his personal advantage was uppermost in his mind. For Paul came to know that real power is to be found in vulnerability, the more powerless one is, the more open one can be to God’s power. When Paul is the weakest, enduring insults, hardships and persecutions and constraints, he is strong with the power of Christ.
In today’s gospel we hear about Jesus returning to His hometown of Nazareth after performing the magnificent miracles we have heard in recent weeks, including the calming of the storm and the raising of Jairus’ daughter from the dead. Despite these powerful signs and the authoritative teaching Jesus conveyed in His hometown’s synagogue, the people there still expressed disbelief.
This Gospel passage that describes conflict and rejection has also confounded its interpreters down through the centuries. Jesus returns to his hometown and he is identified as the son of his mother. It is precisely because he originated from these people that he is rejected by them. The presence of his disciples suggests that the visit is more official than casual. Jesus comes as a teacher. Adult men took their turns explaining the Scriptures in the Synagogue. Thus the fact that Jesus did so was extraordinary. What upset the crowd was the content of his message. Theirs was not the kind of astonishment that gave birth to faith. It was the kind that grew out of disbelief, scepticism and developed into rejection.
The point of the story is the rejection by those who knew Jesus the best but apparently understood him the least, a situation not uncommon for those who have been drawn by God from out of the group to speak God’s word to that group. The people in this story lacked the faith required for the power of God to be effective in their midst.
Our meditation of Jesus continues, for this week he wears the heavy mantle of the prophet. The readings sketch the broad outlines of this messenger of God. They also describe the kind of rejection the prophet must face. One would think that Jesus’ extraordinary abilities and liberating teaching would have been readily accepted by the people who were anxiously awaiting some revelation from God. Such was not the case, in fact, many people struggled with the prophetic dimension of Jesus ultimately rejected him because of it. It is not easy to recognize a true prophet. Just because someone makes claims in the name of God there is no guarantee those claims are authentic. There may be signs that can help us recognize the true prophet, but even they are not always clear-cut.
To be a prophet is difficult because the message of the Gospel is challenging and sometimes controversial, but it’s a message that people need to hear whether they want to hear it or not. The prophet’s message will always be countercultural. The spirit of the prophetic voice and values of today is often at odds with the values of the Gospel. It is especially difficult to be a prophet in one’s own hometown, in our family and among other people who know us well, yet that is what we’re called to do. It is difficult to be prophets because sometimes we fail to live up to the high standards of the Gospel. How many of us, for example, struggle with forgiving our enemies. But there are two ways to avoid hypocrisy. One is to lower your standards. The other is to change your behaviour.
Another reason it is difficult to be a prophet is that no one wants to be seen as self-righteous. But the wisdom of the Gospel is not our own. We must not claim that it is the product of our own excellent minds or immense life experience. We proclaim what we have received ourselves. Not to proclaim it would be unfaithful and ungrateful to God who revealed it to us. We need to pass on the heritage that has been passed down to us. Without a heritage, every generation has to start over.
It is also difficult to be a prophet, it is because we’re afraid of appearing to be judgmental. Anyone who wants to live an authentic Christian life will struggle against the alluring call of the flesh and sin. We know we’re not perfect people and so we must avoid casting moral judgments on persons, but we must clearly speak out against injustice. We must clearly speak up for what is right and denounce what is wrong.
This is especially so in our time when there are so many threats to human life from the pandemic, hunger, controversies on vaccine roll out and availability, poverty, economic inequality, social injustices and climate change. The ever present and persistent problem of modern attack on our democracy, when our sovereignty is controlled by foreign powers, while our nation is engulf with crises which those in power created and where the same power, uses crises as alibi to curtail civil rights of those who gave them power, at this time, where even religion is used invoking the name of an unjust, racist, meta-physical god, where they create terrorist brands, those that opposes as axis of evil. It demonizes all oppositions by quoting the Bible, “He who is not with me is against me.…We should be …in our faith and deeply rooted in the Gospel so that we may be ready to analyse our present situation without a priori dogmatic prejudices…”
We are called to be Moses, prophets, and to be the Church, we have ears but hear not. Many of us fail to see the evil in our present society nor correctly interpret the signs of the time, we are blind. Many of us remain bystanders or audience to a drama of life where we have no part. We do not care…When we run to the Lady of Perpetual Help, let us also be ready to help when those who need us run to us for help…She offered her Son to be broken that the Kingdom maybe established.
Death threats, red-tagging, trump-up charges are common menu in the ministry of many leading bishops, priests, pastors, lay ministers, community workers and organizers. It is an instrument to stifle the mission and ministry of the nationalist, progressive churches and clergy by tagging them as “enemy of the state” for allegedly supporting the revolutionaries and communists. It’s not easy to be prophetic or to be a modern day prophet. It never has and it never will be, but nevertheless that’s what God calls us to be and he promises a prophet’s reward for fidelity to our mission. On the other hand if we prefer not to rock the boat, as Aristotle says “To avoid criticism…say nothing, do nothing, and be nothing.”
Carrying ones cross and to sacrifice is truly difficult. A prophet is not a fortune teller but somebody who has the courage and boldness to tell the truth in a particular context by announcing the good news and denouncing the evil that plagued that society. This is the basis where a true prophet can project something about the future. What is left to us are Jesus’ valuable words and guiding thoughts to learn the path of true service for the poor and the oppressed. Jesus is more than a prophet, but part of his mission was prophetic. He proclaimed a message of moral reform, mercy, justice, compassion and salvation. When we were baptized into Christ we were called to share in Christ’s prophetic mission. May we be a prophet that give voice to the voiceless and a light to those who are experiencing darkness in their lives. God bless us all.