One of my favourite cartoon characters is Garfield. I like his clever and short lines but have substance in it. One of the things he said which made me think really is this: ‘I can’t like everything, because a lot of stuff stinks.’ It takes time and wisdom to say this though. Because it is true, we can’t just take everything as they appear to us, because not everything is what it seems to be. There are things that are too ordinary for us. And there are also things that are too good to be true.
This is the underlying reason why the People of Nazareth couldn’t believe in Jesus, as we heard from our Gospel today. They couldn’t see Jesus as a prophet because for them he is too ordinary just like anyone of them. He is just the Son of Mary, their neighbour. He is just a carpenter. They couldn’t believe in what he was telling them because they were pre-occupied with the question where did Jesus get all his wisdom, when he is just a humble inhabitant of Nazareth, and whose family they all know about. They couldn’t believe in him, in his words and miracles because for them he is too good to be true.
The marks of a true prophet?
Five descriptions of a good and true prophet based on our Readings today.
First a true prophet is one who would speak and stand for the truth even if the people seemed to be so obstinate or defiant of the message as Ezekiel noted in our First Reading today. ‘Whether you listen to my message or not, but you know, there’s a prophet among you’, Ezekiel would tell us today. And he would add, whether you would believe me or not, but I have warned you.’ Ezekiel was showing us that a true prophet perseveres and insists in proclaiming the message by obeying what the Lord has to say to his people. He didn’t gather his own followers or form his own fan’s club, rather he urged people to come back to God.
Second, a true prophet is one who would acknowledge and accept his weaknesses and limitations, yet continue to live out the message of the gospel on which he or she is called to do, as shown by the example of St Paul in our Second Reading today. St Paul acknowledges his ‘thorn’ in the flesh as his weakness and limitation but he accepts it as part of him. And because of that God even uses it as his power through which his message of love, care and compassion is to be preached.
Third, a true prophet is one who would remind the people to accept the gift of faith which enables them to grow into a more, real and personal relationship with our living God as Jesus tried to solicit in our gospel today. He appears to be so ordinary a person but bringing the supernatural message of eternal life and love of God for all of us, if only we believe in him and his message.
The fourth mark of the true prophet is the content of his or her preaching. A true prophet preaches communion with God. Usually God sends prophet to his people to remind them that they have broken away from him, so He wishes them to come back to him. Communion comes from the latin words ‘cum’ (with, together) and ‘unus’ (oneness, union), so this means together as one, in our case, as one with God. However, there is great challenge here to live out this communion with God and with one another for that matter because, though the world is getting like just one global village, we are still not united in many respects. Archbishop Chito Tagle of the Philippines has pointed out this situation in the talk he gave to the delegates of the 50th International Eucharistic Congress in Dublin. He said:
We see in our time so much exchange of words happening at high speed and across national boundaries. But unfortunately the world is as divided as ever. Why is communion not achieved in spite of the exchange of words? Because Jesus is not the word they share and receive. When financial wizards talk about ways of manipulating the economy for their own profit, you do not call that communion – that is corruption! When politicians talk to people about grand promises without intending to fulfill them, you do not call that communion – that is cheating! When the powerful “negotiate” among themselves while neglecting the weak, you do not call that communion – that is oppression! When so-called enterprising persons deal with each other on how women and children could be profitable merchandise, you do not call that communion – that is slavery!
When communion consists in Jesus who is the Word of Life then the common good becomes central and that is pleasing to God’s eyes.”
The fifth mark of a true prophet is if he or she offers hope to his or her listener, a hope that is intimately linked to Jesus, a hope that things would be as they are meant to be, if we just don’t lose sight of Him. This reminds me of Bishop Joe’s homily at my diaconate ordination. He said: ‘You are not called to bring yourself but who you represent who you stand for – Jesus Christ. Make sure that you always give room to our God to console, heal, encourage, empower, forgive, rejoice, and to do whatever is necessary to our people.’
To live out our baptismal character as a prophet therefore, especially in this day and age, demands of us great courage, faith and full cooperation. Yes, we may not like everything we see and experience, because many of them really puts us down, but like Ezekiel, Paul, and Jesus in our Readings today, let’s keep up and go on. Let’s face ourselves, acknowledge who we are, accept our human limitations and weaknesses, and allow God to use as his instruments that convey love, care and compassion to his own people. Let this be our prayer for today. Amen.