Mark 6:1-6; 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Part of my work with many others is to predict climate change. For more than two decades now, we’ve been telling people that the sky is indeed the limit, and that the sky is, well, falling. We do not relish this role of messenger. No one wants to hear warnings that remind them of Chicken Little and so people understandably just look away. Amazingly, to this day, some are still in denial. People see what they want to see; they only hear what they choose to hear.
Today’s readings are about prophets, Ezekiel in the first, Jesus in the Gospel. In both instances, they are rejected by people who are “hard of face and obstinate of heart.” In the Gospel, it is familiarity (of the familial kind) and expectations that get in the way of their faith, of their accepting Jesus as the Christ of God.
Is this not the carpenter, the one who worked on our houses? Is not Mary his mother? We can concede his wonder-working and wisdom, but to accept him as the long-awaited One, the Messiah, our Redeemer, the very Son of God? Please.
We normally associate prophets with fortune-tellers. But prophets are more than just future-guessers or doomsayers. They are truth-tellers of the past, present, and future. And they are tellers not just of any truth but of God’s truth. Their vision is not theirs alone but God’s as well.
You would think that God’s truth would be liberating or that God’s vision would be consoling, but these messengers of God were never really welcome even in the time of Ezekiel and the Babylonian exile, nor in the time of Jesus and the Roman occupation. People threw prophets off the boat or crucified them. And more so even now, in this post-truth age in which emotions and half-truths take center stage, prophets are hounded and cast out.
They are hunted down because people would rather believe the lie that captivates than trust the truth that unsettles them. And since lies are plenty and cheap, there is more captivating than unsettling to be had.
Let us thus be careful of the captivating prophecies, the little lies we tell ourselves. Many of these prophecies are self-fulfilling and self-reinforcing. For instance, to prophesy or believe ourselves hopeless in this time of uncertainty only paralyzes us, which in turn lessens further what little hope we had at the start. Let us also take care not to be scared by those who pretend to carry God’s wrath but who are, in truth, just zombies whose only power over us is the fear we give them. Fear builds upon fear as despair grows upon despair.
As for truth, let us welcome the truth that always sets us free even as it unsettles us. Let us train our sights to see our real distance from God’s truth and vision. Rather than be dismayed, let the truth of our separation or rebellion from God be a prophetic moment, an opening for God’s truth and love to join our lives to his.
In a Peanuts cartoon, Peppermint Patty asks, “Do all fairy tales begin with ‘once upon a time?'” Charlie Brown answers, “No, many of them begin, ‘If I am elected, I promise…'”
It does not take a prophet to predict that in the near future (with elections around the corner), there will be prophets promising us all sorts of futures and fairy tales. We will never suffer for lack of them.
Let us learn from the past, from 2016, and strain to listen beyond their words. Words have become cheap, lies legion. Let us listen instead for God’s voice in their lives, if indeed the santong boses is even a faint echo in their lives, however imperfect. Then consider carefully those to whom they are beholden, those for whom they truly speak.
Let us listen for God’s voice today, in our own prayers and in the hollow inside us. God speaks to us in the voiceless, whenever truth rages against power, every time love breaks the silence.
In this pandemic alone, we’ve seen a surge in fortune-tellers and charlatans. But there have been true messengers and prophetic moments too. God has not been silent. Nor should we.
*image from the Internet