On this beautiful summer Saturday evening, we have a very heavy topic flowing out of our Scripture lessons. It’s about the prophets and prophecy. This will be our Gospel message for a couple of weeks now. When we start to think about and reflect on the topic of prophets we probably think, “What would that have to do with me?” First of all, God still sends prophets into our midst. We still have the opportunity to hear them, to listen.
Or to be like the people in Babylon where the Jews had been sent into exile, we can reject the prophets in our midst even as they rejected Ezekiel. Or even as in Nazareth, Jesus’ own family, friends, people he grew up with rejected him; they would not listen. So that’s one thing we have to begin to reflect on — are we open to hearing God’s word proclaimed to us by prophets in our midst today? But then a second thing and maybe even more important: Each one of us is called to be a prophet. Maybe you think, “That’s kind of absurd. I’m a prophet?”
If you go back to the text of the baptism by which each of us was baptized, you find out that at the time when you’re anointed by the minister of baptism, anointed with holy chrism, the minister said, “As Jesus was anointed priest, prophet, and king, so may you live always as a member of his body sharing everlasting life.” In other words, we too, at our baptisms have been anointed to carry on the very work of Jesus, the work of priest offering sacrifice here at our altar every week, the work of ruler guiding, showing others the way, but also the work of prophet.
Just to be sure (although I feel certain everybody’s aware of this), prophecy isn’t about predicting the future. A prophet is one who speaks, but speaks on behalf of God. A prophet speaks the message of God, and especially that message as it’s proclaimed to us through Jesus. Now that message is being preached to us today through a variety of prophets in our midst. Perhaps the most prominent prophets recently are those people from the church in South Carolina who were so brutally murdered by that young man who actually was carrying out a racist and terrorist action.
You may remember, maybe even saw it on television, when they confronted the killer, one after another proclaims the message of Jesus — forgiveness, a refusal to use violence in response to violence, and instead a reaching out in love. Back in Nazareth, that’s probably the main reason why Jesus was rejected. He had begun to proclaim the reign of God, which is God’s love over all and all of us participating in that love of God and spreading the love of God wherever we go.
Jesus was showing them and he told them, “The reign of God is at hand.” He made it very clear — not a military reign or a reign of power, a reign of violence, a reign of might. God’s reign is a reign of love and only love, even so far as to love your enemy. It’s hard to accept that. Love your enemy, do good to those who hurt you, return good for evil — that was the message, the word of God Jesus was proclaiming. His own family, his neighbors, his friends couldn’t accept it.
They rejected Jesus. He left his hometown, Nazareth, and went off to preach elsewhere. The same thing can happen to us today when we have prophets in our midst like those who show us the way of Jesus, the way of forgiveness even in the face of extreme violence and hatred. Are we ready to listen and to really recognize this is the word of God proclaimed to us through these people who are giving us once more the message of Jesus?
This past week in Detroit (to bring it maybe closer to home), a group of ministers, pastors from the city gathered in a meeting to discuss and then to have a press conference about the terrible violence taking place in our community. In some ways you say, “How absurd it is when people go to a block party. There are people there with guns. Then if some kind of altercation breaks out, they begin to shoot and kill.” That’s happened twice very recently.
These ministers were gathered to publicly proclaim that we must reject that. We must give up our guns thinking that guns can protect us. It’s not the way of Jesus. Our next prophet, and we’re so blessed, is Pope Francis. His encyclical letter that just came out on June 18th — Laudato Si', Praised be God — all about creation, our planet, and what we have done and are doing to it and a plead to heed the devastation that is going on, that is getting to the point of being irreversible, changing our ecology, changing our planet, destroying parts of it.
Maybe one of the hardest things (and I think about this today as I see the flags in our midst and I hope that it will not be taken negatively), but Francis urges us in this encyclical letter not to think about ourselves as people of United States, Canada, Mexico, Germany, France, South Africa — any other nation. He said, “We’re one human family and we have to begin to enhance that concept, deepen it within our own hearts and thoughts.”
“We’re one human family and the whole human family has been given this planet to cherish, to protect, to nurture. We have to work together as a whole human family to make that happen.” That’s what Francis is telling us. To me, he’s a prophet speaking the word of God. I think for many, many people he is, but I hope to all people — everyone will begin to listen to this inspired word because if we really could think of ourselves as one human family, we could break down a lot of the barriers, a lot of the hostility that’s in the world, as well as being able to protect our planet.
That doesn’t mean we give up our nationhood or our regard and our love for our country, but it means we reach beyond and we recognize it’s bigger than just the United States. It’s one world, one family, one God. When we begin to hear that prophecy, we’ll not only begin to move towards saving our planet, we’ll also really begin to move toward sharing in the work of Jesus of making the reign of God’s love happen.
You and I, I hope, must begin to listen carefully to prophets, and there are so many others besides the few I’ve mentioned. But also, we must begin to think, “I have to say the word of God.” In words sometimes, but even more, in the way we live, the way we treat one another, our neighbors, and people in our community, in our country. But beyond our country in the world, by our own lives, we have to speak the message of Jesus, which is the message of God’s love — the message of healing, forgiveness, and reconciliation.
Ultimately, that will be a message that will guarantee that we will have peace in our world, that our planet will be saved and become the beautiful place God means it to be, and that the reign of God will break forth in our midst as we listen to the prophets that are among us. But also each of us begins to carry out our responsibility as one, a follower of Jesus, who proclaims his message by the way we live.
[Homily given at St. Philomena Catholic Church in Detroit, Mich. The transcripts of Bishop Gumbleton's homilies are posted weekly to NCRonline.org. Sign up here to receive an email alert when the latest homily is posted.]