Friday, June 26, 2009

The Dangers of Being A Prophet

Homily on the 14th Sunday of Year B
Mark 6:1-6
July 5, 2009

SPEAK no evil about your superior, even in jest, or even for purposes of correction—if you really want to succeed in life or wish to be rewarded. There is a story of a man who did almost everything for his superior in a particular office of a company. When his friends told him about the perceived shenanigans of their superior which was becoming the talk not only within the office but also in the entire company, he assumed the responsibility of telling their superior about the complaints in order to defuse the mounting opposition. Although he was not able to tell the superior, yet he allowed his officemates, who regarded him as their leader, to discuss their misgivings in a conference so the office volcano might not erupt. But this did not look well with the superior; for it seemed that the latter wanted to portray himself as a saint, or at least impeccable; which was probably why he would hide the big problems of the office to create the impression that all was well and that he was beyond reproach.. And so, when this guy was about to be promoted as manager of the company, upon recommendation of the other bosses in the company, his superior intervened and told the committee that this guy was autocratic, and therefore did not deserve the promotion. The guy, who served him for many years, even assuming the blame for unhappy decisions that his superior made, remained as ordinary worker in the office; he worked for the appointment of another, with the help of another superior in the company, to sit as manager. This raises the question—why should one speak against evil, if doing so will only wind up to one’s one disadvantage, if not death? Why would one do a Lozada or be a whistleblower? Why not just do a monkey business—see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil?

This question brings us to the core of the message in this Sunday’s Gospel. As God’s people, we are a new nation, different from other nations in that, to say the obvious, we are God’s. Our constitution, our identity, flows from God’s choice of us. This recalls God’s word to Abraham: “Go forth from the land of your kinsfolk and from your father’s house to a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation…” (Gen 12:1-2). But if it is by the word that we were born into a nation, it is also by His word that we are alive. Which is why, we “live by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” (Deut 8:3). Since we, Christians, claim to be God’s people, his word is part of our life. Hence, in the Eucharistic celebration, which is the central worship of the community, we feed on the word of God.

Human though as we are, it happens that we stray from the word. Instead of following God’s word, we follow our own; we become unfaithful to our word with Him. We become unfaithful to our Constitution and identity as Christians. We deliberately do not listen to him. In the Old Testament, Jeremiah gives an apt description of God’s people who refused to listen: “To whom shall I speak? Whom shall I warn, and be heard? See! Their ears are uncircumcised, they cannot give heed. See! The word of the Lord has become for them an object of scorn, which they will not have” (Jer 6:10). In the New Testament, Jesus was also aware of a similar attitude among his hearers: “Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word” (John 8:42). The faith experience of Israel is often repeated in our own.

It is in this context that God sends us prophets. As we become stubborn, obstinate, God appoints prophets, as in the First Reading: “I am sending you to the Israelites, rebels who have rebelled against Me; they and their fathers have revolted against Me to this very day. Hard of face and obstinate of heart are they, to whom I am sending you. But you shall say to them: “’Thus says the Lord God” (Ezek 2:3-5). In this, we see the person of the prophet. He is not primarily one who predicts the future, but God’s spokesperson (Jer 1:8). He is appointed to deliver God’s word; he speaks whether listened to or not (Ezek 2:7). He speaks even when he is not accepted: “I charge you to preach the word, to stay with this task whether convenient or inconvenient—correcting, reproving, appealing—constantly teaching and never ending patience (Tim 4:2).

It is here that we encounter the perils of being a prophet. Why? Because we do not want to give ear to his prophetic words. We prefer to listen to people who speak what is pleasing to our ears (2 Tm 4:3-4). Priests who have prophetic tendencies are not unfamiliar with the common attitude of many people, both inside and outside the Church. If he speaks of God’s love, divine healing, glory of God, nobody protests. There are safe words. But he speaks of corruption, abuse of power, oppression, taking advantage of others, domination, and cheating—aha, that is the problem. Some parishioners will probably stop dropping their collection envelopes. Some in the Church will call him a person to be avoided. Parishioners will start arguing that their pastor has become a politician, no longer sticking to his calling as a priest—as if to reprove, to correct, to appeal is not part of the task of the preacher, as if politics and economy have no moral dimension, as if the parishes are peopled by angels. Well, that is what we do not those whom God sends us.

Truth is, of the prophet we even created stories that is fit for tabloids. We do not want the prophet to tell us what is true. Naked truth, after all, is scandalous, and so we prefer to put clothes on it. And so we surround ourselves with flatterers and admirers, like the men in the palace in the story, “The King’s Clothes.” How we want to see a prophet or a critic or a speaker of truth languishing in jail. If he speaks against us, we transfer him to another office to let him know we did not like what he did, or else to a place where he cannot criticize. Indeed, we even scrutinize his background to destroy his name or credentials, much like in the Gospel when the people of Nazareth could not believe that Jesus was a prophet because he was merely a carpenter/s son (Mark 6:1-6). We engage in blackmail and character assassination to padlock his lips, or else we plot to kill him, as some of the Jews did to Jeremiah, whom they threw into the well. In the face of all this, is it any wonder why we consider a prophet a fool? Is it any wonder that it is better to tell lies, humor our superior, kowtow to him, so that the boat is not rocked, and so that we get promoted, and make the gang happy? Is it any wonder that to speak no evil, hear no evil and see no evil is the best option for many?

But then, what is at work in the life of the prophet is God’s power (2 Cor 12:7-10). Because the power is not our own, we, if we are really true to our calling as Christians, have no alternative but to act as prophets. As such, we have to be fearless in announcing God’s word and in denouncing man’s selfish word. When Khruschev denounced Stalin for his atrocities against the Russian people, some said, “Comrade, where were you when all these innocents were slaughtered? Of course, when Khruschev made the denunciation, Stalin was already six feet below the ground. That is not, obviously, the way of prophetism—fearless only before a dead lion.

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