Image: Richardson Mountains
Jeremiah 26.1-9 | Psalm 69 | Matthew 13.54-58
In today’s readings we hear the story of two prophets. When we talk about biblical prophecy, we have to remember that we are not talking about fortune tellers or those who make dubious money by staring into crystal balls and entertain people by telling them their future. It is true that some of the biblical prophets did have visions but, for the most part, prophecy is about being attentive to the signs of the times and using wisdom and common sense to assess the present state of things in order to make a well grounded forecast about what tomorrow will bring.
One good example would be our local weatherman on the television. He or she does not have supernatural powers to tell us what the weather for the long weekend will be. Yet, through years of study and the accumulation of the knowledge of past weather patterns, they can make a good prediction of whether or not we should plan that outdoor picnic on Sunday after church or whether we should stay indoors because of the coming rain.
Biblical prophecy speaks about things far more important than the 7-day weather forecast. In the first reading the prophet Jeremiah is forecasting the downfall of the Kingdom of Judah, not because of what he sees in the future but because of what he sees right before his eyes. The covenant that had been made with God was a road map to their success as a people and Jeremiah has seen that they have made every wrong turn. Likewise, in the gospel, though he was divine in nature, Jesus exercised his ministry of prophecy no differently. He spoke out of wisdom and knowledge of what constitutes good living, not just for us as individuals but for society as a whole.
What both of these prophets had in common is that they were despised for what they did and said. When I said that prophecy relies on common sense, we have to remember that common sense is not all that common. While the prophets had long range vision, and it was their job to inform the people when they were going to run afoul if things stay on the present course, most people only focus on the short term and have blinders on so they do not see anything that might warn them of danger ahead.
The vocation of a prophet is not an easy one. If they speak the truth and no one listens, they are hated and persecuted because they are seen as a disruption and a pain. Then, when their warning proves true, saying “I told you so”, is small comfort. If, however, their words are heeded and future calamity is avoided, there is no proof to say they were right in the first place. The people are spared but there is no recognition for the prophet. The only reward is knowing that they said what they needed to say.
Why this is important to know is that each one of us has the vocation to be a prophet. It was given to us at our baptism when were anointed with oil and named Priest, Prophet and King. As Christians we have a duty and responsibility to remember how we have walked with God in the past, to evaluate our present in the light of that relationship and to think long term about where it is that God wants us to go in view of where God is leading us.
How we exercise our ministry of prophecy will be different for everyone but in each case, there will be these common elements. We are called to be people of prayer, so that we can be in touch with God who is the source of all knowledge. We need to be humble so that we can be sure that what we are speaking is of God and not just from our own ego. We are called to be people of compassion so that we can think not only of our own good but to have the best interests of our whole community in mind when we speak or act. We are called to be people of courage, so that when we understand that something needs to change we can stand up and voice what we understand knowing, that some may take offence at our words because they are uncomfortable to hear.