Poor Jeremiah. Called to be a prophet. When Jeremiah heard God say that he had been called for this from the womb, it was like being told that his birth certificate named him “trouble-maker-for-life.” Nothing was ever going to be easy for this man.
A prophet is called by God to read the signs of the times in the light of the gospel. A prophet is someone deeply in touch with contemporary reality, one who is lcourageous enough to expose what is contrary to the will of God, as well as galvanize others to believe in and work to create a gospel alternative.
That’s a job description set up to antagonize just about everybody. All those who benefit from the status quo – authorities, clergy, the dominant race, the highly educated, the wealthy – know that prophets question such people’s privilege. The privileged among us recognize their words as a threat to our complacency.
Do we wonder why people plotted against Jeremiah? The prophetic message is just too demanding. If you’re not sure about the cost of listening to prophecy, look up quotes from Pope Francis available on the bishops’ website. Listen to Francis quoting St. John Chrysostom:
“Not to share one’s goods with the poor is to rob them and to deprive them of life. It is not our goods that we possess, but theirs.” That’s a prophetic statement that lets nobody with two coats off the hook. It says that when you encounter the poor, you either robe them or you rob them.
The second dimension of prophecy is the too-often-forgotten task of promoting real alternatives. This dimension of the prophetic vocation offers an interpretation of the charge Jesus gives us in today’s gospel: “What I say to you in the darkness, speak in the light.”
How often do we hear a nearly inaudible voice prod us with some version of those most disturbing questions: “Isn’t there another possibility? Does it always have to be this way?” These are quite often the questions of young people whose experience has not yet taught them to capitulate to “the way things really work.”
And, to those who have not yet accumulated so much that they feel they must protect it. The moment we find ourselves resisting such questions, we need to ask ourselves what we fear; what have we allowed to come into our lives and fetter our hopes?
More importantly, we need to ask ourselves what we honestly believe about “the way things really work.” That’s Paul in today’s reading from Romans. He begins by talking about “the way it is” – sin and death seem to rule our world. Then he challenges people to ask if they believe that Christ has really made a difference.
In today’s gospel, Jesus sends the apostles out to teach the coming of the kingdom of heaven. He knows they will encounter resistance and even life-threatening opposition. Thus, he starts and finishes the core of his instruction by saying, “Do not be afraid.”
Today’s readings call us to reconsider our Christian vocation. Each of us was baptized to share in Christ’s prophetic ministry. That means we need to stop and ask ourselves if we are willing to love our world enough to be part of making it what God created it to be.
Accepting the call to prophecy means that, like Jeremiah, we are willing to step into the space where the way of the world contradicts the gospel and say, “It doesn’t have to be this way.” It means we are accepting the role of speaking and acting as prophets for life.
Paul A. Magnano
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