God tells Moses in today’s first reading that he is going to start sending prophets to speak for him. And while I think there would be no argument that Jesus is the greatest of these prophets, the Old Testament attests that God sent many before him that and there have been many since.
In our 21st century world, the word prophet often has the meaning of someone who foretells the future, In fact, that is one of the meanings Prophet;
pro = f-o-r-e and phet = tell. But we use it in a different way; pro = f-o-r and phet = speak, or to put it another way, to speak for. A prophet speaks for God.
In our culture today, we have both kinds of prophets,though the ones who "think" they can predict the future always seem to get center stage. Look at all the reports we had of predictions of the end of the world at the end of last year! But there are many prophets all around us who through their actions bring the word of God to life, just like the Incarnation 2000 years ago.
Many of the characteristics of these prophets are the same as they have been for the last 3 or 4 thousand years.
They let us know that not only is God the almighty one, transcendent and above all, but he is also a personal God that wants us to love him as he loves us.
They show us that God is present with us in the world in all our activities.
They are unsettling in the way that they call attention to the fact that we and the world we live in need to make some changes in order to reconcile ourselves with God. In this way prophets are sometimes disturbing people because they make us face up to things, and bring things into the open that we would rather keep hidden. But they always temper their messages with words of hope so we do not despair.
Some people, given the proper forum, are true prophets for an entire age. Mother Theresa comes to mind.When she had any opportunities at a public forum, no matter who was in attendance, she always called for a greater respect for life at every stage.
We can think back to Pope Paul VI, who wrote his encyclical “Humanae Vitae” at the height of the so called “sexual revolution.” Not only was he a prophet in the narrow sense of speaking God’s word by calling people back to a respect for themselves and for others, but he was also a prophet in the wider sense of predicting what would happen if artificial birth control became the norm: greater marital infidelity, loss of respect for women, an increase in pre-marital sex among our youth, a general lowering of morality in all aspects of our society, not to mention government use of contraceptives for political purposes. He succesfully predicted all these developments.
Another prophet to come out of the sixties was Martin Luther King, Jr. He spoke the word of God and he spoke the truth in his call to end racism in this country. His call, like the prophets of old, was a call to conversion of heart; to make us realize that racism and bigotry divides the human family that Jesus Christ had to die for so that we could all be brothers and sisters of one another as children of the same loving God.
And he was killed for it. Some people don’t like hearing the truth, because it means they have to change. They “harden their hearts” to God and his truth. That’s why the psalmist today was so emphatic - “If today you hear his voice, harden not your heart.” Because that’s the natural tendency, to harden our hearts against the messenger and the message when we hear some ugly truth about ourselves. We try to deny our unclean spirits or rationalize them within ourselves and we strike out against those who bring them to our attention. It happened to Paul VI’s message about contraception in Humanae Vitae and it happened to Martin Luther King.
By the way, I guess you heard that the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops included King’s name in a list of 20th century martyrs that it sent to the pope to be honored during the Milennium celebration. It’s the first time in history that the Catholic Church will honor a non-Catholic as someone who died for the for the faith. Now the reason he was included was not because he died defending the Catholic faith, but because he died defending the truth and the truth of God’s word.
Don’t get me wrong, he’s not up for sainthood or anything like that. There is very little likelyhood of a St. Martin Luther King. But he was undoubtably killed for speaking out against the sin of racism and standing up for justice. That puts him in the company of some pretty famous martyrs and prophets. And I think its pretty ironic that the Church, in an act of unity among Christians has selected someone with the same name as the person who started such great divisions 500 years ago.
Just a thought.
And I always tend to think that racism is gone from our world. But just when I start to get complacent about it, someone will say something out of the clear blue sky that makes me realize how wrong I am and leaves me wondering.
(tell story of neighbor)
Anyway, you’re probably wondering “Where’s the hope that comes along with these prophetic messages?” Today’s gospel reminds us that our hope is in Jesus - the Holy One of God, as one of the unclean spirits called him. Just as Jesus ordered the unclean sprits out of the man in today’s gospel, Jesus gives orders to our unclean spirits if we ask him. He exorcises the spirit of racial prejudice and replaces it with a spirit of tolerance. He orders out the spirit of lust and thedesire to use and abuse others and fills us with a spirit ofcompassion. To the spirit of greed he says “COME OUT!” and it comes out shrieking. And he replaces it with a spirit of generosity. To the spirit of violence and hostility he says “LEAVE AT ONCE!” and he replaces it with love and tenderness.
We all need the type of ongoing exorcism that comes from the healer from Nazareth. We all need the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the comfort of loving friends of God, and the knowledge that no matter how long we have been gripped by evil, Christ’s loving touch can set us free. That’s our great hope.
And when we declare the love and forgiveness of Christ for ourselves and our world, we become authentic prophets, living out a wonderous hope that is wrapped up in the simple message of gospel truth - the Good News of Jesus Christ.