22nd Sunday Ordinary Time
Deacon William Meehan
Preached: September 3, 2023
Scandal. Political upheaval. War. Secularization. Even exile. The prophets of the Old Testament faced it all. During times of great change and uncertainty, God called men and women from various backgrounds to stand up for their faith and to help guide the rest of the world toward virtue. Often, when we think of prophets, we think of Isaiah, Amos, Hosea, and the prophet we heard from in our first reading, Jeremiah. They were people who lived in an era which has since long gone, and their messages often seem like distant exhortations to a culture that no longer exists.
However, the stories of the prophets continue to have value for us today. They show us what it means to be a person who fights for their beliefs and who stands up in the midst of crisis, and they help us live lives of virtue. This is something which is important for us because each and every one of us is a prophet. You are a prophet. At Baptism, following the anointing with the Chrism oil, the celebrant proclaims that we are anointed priest, prophet, and king. There is much that can be said about this three-fold consecration, but I’m going to focus on just one today: you have been anointed a prophet of God.
What does it mean to be a prophet in our world today? What are we supposed to do? The prophets of the Old Testament show us exactly what it means to be called by God to respond to the signs of the times. The prophets are people who arise in history. They are appointed by God at a particular point in time to respond to the crises of their society.
When the People of Israel turned away from God, when they neglected the Law, or when they were facing some specific threat or turmoil, God appointed individuals to shed light on their errors. These individuals called attention to the sinfulness in the world and reminded them of God’s love and mercy. They pointed out errors in the hope that things could be changed. They heard the voice of God and they relayed that message to others.
The purpose of a prophecy was not to declare condemnation or to proclaim the end of the world. It was to incite the people into changing their ways – it was a call to conversion. And then the prophets interceded for the people – they prayed for them.
These are all things which we can do. Now, I am not saying that we all ought to be standing on the streetcorners screaming for repentance. Nor am I saying that we should be criticizing people online and denouncing them as sinners. But we can still give witness to God and to virtue. By the very way we live our lives, others should know our love for God.
In the midst of an ever-increasing secularized world, where virtue ethics are cast aside in favour of individualism, choosing to follow God and living that choice provides a concrete demonstration of what it means to be a Christian. We can reject the atheistic and materialistic consumerist society. We can make decisions based upon upholding the dignity of each and every person as a beloved child of God. We can provide support to others who need help. We can try to be more caring and less selfish.
All these gives testimony to God, and it incites others to conversion. The methods we employ today may differ from the Old Testament prophets, but the goal remains the same. Yet, there is one more characteristic of a prophet that we cannot overlook. The prophets were quite often rejected. They faced ridicule and backlash for standing up to the institutions of their day. Jeremiah is a prime example of this. We hear him calling out to God saying that, because of his prophecies, he has become a laughing stock.
In devoting himself to God and becoming wise in spiritual things, Jeremiah was mocked and silenced by those in positions of power and authority. They do not want him to speak the truth because it interferes with their plans. They do not want their mistakes pointed out to them. They are hard-hearted and do not want to change their ways.
When Jesus tells his disciples that they must take up their crosses, this is what he is referring to. He is calling them to be prophets in their own time, knowing that they too will face backlash. Being a prophet is not an easy task. It was not easy during the time of Jesus, and it is not easy now. But this is the life to which God is calling us. It is a life that we, as Christians, freely accept by virtue of our baptism.
And why do we take on this role if we know the difficulties, the crosses, that will plague us? We do it because we have hope that our love of God and God’s love for us will lead us to heaven. This is the future glory of which Jesus speaks in the Gospels. We accept the mission of being a prophet in the world because of our longing for God.
We choose a life which may not seem satisfying according to secular values, but which does ultimately fulfill our desires. In the depths of our hearts, we all have a desire for God, a desire to be close to God. Being a prophet in the world helps to satisfy this desire. It may not always seem to be the case, but being a prophet is one of the most rewarding things we can do.
Each one of us has been chosen by God – called by God. By virtue of our baptism, we are enlisted as prophets. Throughout history, God has appointed prophets whenever the world needs them most. God sends prophets to show others a better way of living – the way of virtue and of love. We are all being asked to share our faith in our communities, and in our society.
This is not a task that we can leave for others who are somehow “holier” or “better”. God does not ask for people who because they are the most powerful or the most influential. When God first calls Jeremiah, the prophet responds saying “who am I, Lord? I am only a child!” It does not matter your age, or your status, or how successful you are. God is calling you to be a prophet. It is up to you to respond to God’s calling. It is up to each of us to be the prophets that we need in the world today.