Today we were blessed to have Fr. George Nkeze, a priest of the Diocese of Buea in Cameroon preach a mission at the parish. I was able to enjoy a preaching holiday! But I happily share a homily on these Sunday readings from another year.
“Would that all the people of the LORD were prophets!” – so said Moses to the people of the Exodus. And did you know that at your own baptism you were anointed with the Sacred Chrism to share in the prophetic ministry of Christ? Would that each one of us would know that we are prophets of the Lord and would live accordingly….. Of course, that raises the question of what it means to be a prophet. When I ask around there are a couple of ideas that seem to be popular:
- To predict things – most notably the future – as in “he is a prophet because he is predicting the day Jesus will return in glory…” Interesting….but incorrect – at least from a biblical perspective.
- Or how about this…. To be prophetic is “to speak truth to power.” Perhaps, but then it depends on someone’s idea of truth which too often is opinion, fact, data or information, but may or may not be truth – you know the kind with a capital “T” – the kind that points to salvation.
So, what would it mean to be a prophet in our day and age? I would suggest that the role really has not changed. When you look into the Old Testament, to the lives of Moses, Micah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hosea, and the other, there is a consistent pattern of the prophetic posture in the world.
The prophet comes to the people and gives a prophetic symphony in three parts. In the first movement, the prophets points to the past and tells the story of Israel’s relationship with God. Pretty straight forward. We are in covenant with God. He is our God, we are his people. When we live as his people, there are blessings. When we move away from God and depend on ourselves, our riches, our own accomplishments – ultimately there are curses. Blessings, curses…get it?
Second movement: Ok, people…. Let’s take a look at today. Are we living as God commanded? Do we love God with our whole heart, our whole mind and all our being? Do we love others as ourselves? Are we trying, even if we fail from time to time? Are we keeping our eyes on God and struggling to journey to Him, with Him and in Him?
Third movement: Ok people, and this is not rocket science. If the answer to all those questions is “Yes” then we will know the blessings of God. If the answer is “No” then we will experiences the curses.
Three movements, with one symphony of purpose: to continually call people back to the fullness of the covenant with God who is love. To continually in word, deed and life to be a witness to the love of God in your life. To live in a way that calls people back to life with God. And that is thrust and hope of the Letter of James that we have been reading for several weeks now. Even though it is not part of our reading today, just a few verses after where we stop – and the last verse of the Letter – James writes: “My brothers, if anyone among you should stray from the truth and someone bring him back” There it is…someone bring him back. It is the language of the prophet. It is the desire of God and goal of the Covenant.
But sometimes we have to be prophetic about ourselves and our own lives – and that is sometimes a bigger challenge. Maybe the most critical attribute of the prophet is to be able to see clearly – not only for a people, but even from his or her own self.
A movie I really enjoyed was the 2009 film by Marc Webb, “500 Days of Summer.” If being prophetic includes being able to see clearly, then this was a prophetic movie. In the quirky, yet wonderfully told film, Tom and Summer have broken up after a long relationship. As the narrator of the film explains, Tom still hoped and believed that they would get back together after this long separation – and he has been invited to a party at Summer’s. It is her engagement party to someone not Tom. As Tom approaches her place, it is at that point that the screen splits and two scenes unfold almost simultaneously. You are able to see what Tom’s “Expectations” look like alongside what really happens in “Reality.” Tom is unable to see the world “as it really is,” or, put another way, “to see the world as God sees it.” And of course his expectation that as soon as Summer sees him an old spark will reignite – is way off base. In the end reality catches up and Tom leave the party disappointed – loveless. As a result his life does not call out to anyone. His life has no chance to be prophetic. He can’t see clearly
I wonder if someone made a film about me and my journey to the party at God’s house – would they need the split screen because my own view of my prophetic walk is just plain ol’ out of kilter. Or would it be a single screen because I can and have looked into my journey and clearly seen the times when I was part of the covenant and as well as when I strayed away from God’s love.
Can I see the times when my hand or my eyes caused me to sin as the gospel warns. Or that as James warns my pursuit of wealth and things not of God are but a siren’s call luring me away from the covenant’s call. Can I also see the times when God’s grace was overwhelming, saving and cleansing? If I can do that, then I can speak truth to the powers that hold sway over a friends, a parishioner, a stranger – and be prophetic and call someone back to God.
Yes indeed – would that we all would see so clearly. “Would that all the people of the LORD were prophets!”