Prophecy and Prophets of Love
First Reading Jeremiah 1:4-10
Psalm Psalm 71:1-6
Second Reading 1 Corinthians 13:1-1
Gospel Luke 4:21-30
“... before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”
In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen
I wonder if any of you have a favorite prophet. Many of us have a favorite color or a favorite ice cream. Why not a favorite prophet? While I’m fond of all of them, I would have to say Jeremiah is my favorite prophet, for two reasons. First, as I read the prophets, Jeremiah exhibits a personal relationship with God that I do not sense in other Old Testament prophets. Jeremiah seems to remain particularly prayerful, faithful, and obedient, even when delivering tough messages and going through tough times. But it didn’t start that way, which is my second reason. Jeremiah was a reluctant prophet.
Our cultural myth is that all the people God calls to great challenges are righteous, faithful servants who jump up and shout, "Here I am, Lord. Send me!" The truth is that many major figures of scripture struggled with their call. God does not only call the righteous who immediately accept their commission. God calls all of us. Jeremiah was uncomfortable when God called him to action. "God, you must have the wrong guy. I'm just a boy." Jeremiah did not believe his faith had the maturity for this task. Jeremiah did not believe he was equipped to be a prophet. Note God did not say, “we'll send you to seminary and prophet school and you will learn all you need to know there.” God said, "Do not be afraid ... I am with you to deliver you." The promise is God’s unwavering presence. Jeremiah came to understand that his mission was not about Jeremiah. His work was God's work.
Our divine calling is wrapped up in every aspect of our lives. God chooses us. God calls us all, for “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you." This is not a statement of pre-destination, but a testament to God’s omniscient invitation. We are all called from our baptism to continue the traditions of our faith, resist evil and repent when we fail, to proclaim the Good News of Christ, to love our neighbors as ourselves, and to strive for justice and peace, respecting the dignity of every human being. To uphold this covenant is a challenge. We may even at times be reluctant. Take it from one who resisted God’s call to ordained ministry for thirty years! We often have our own plans, or shrink from God’s challenge. From baptism, in our full and feeble humanity, we strive to proclaim our faith and hope and dependence on God by responding, "we will, with God's help."
Some of those called are not reluctant. The gospel readings in this season continue to reveal epiphanies of God’s divine presence among us. Jesus, not reluctant in the least, is in full communion and obedience, embracing God’s mission completely. Of course, this does not mean that all the world is ready to accept the prophetic Messiah.
Today’s gospel is part two of a ‘to be continued’ from last week. Jesus has proclaimed the prophecies of Isaiah to be his mission ... “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” The scene begins with Jesus’ proclamation, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” The response starts off well enough. “All spoke well of him and were amazed.” Then there is a dramatic, jarring shift. It is as if the people suddenly realize what Jesus is really saying. They measure the divine presence and action of God against what we know of the world, what we can see and grasp and understand. Why, this is Mary and Joseph's boy! Perhaps they remember Jesus in a precocious moment or the awkward teen years. Perhaps the people remember Jesus getting into trouble, hanging around with all the wrong people. Suddenly, what they understand of the Almighty God doesn't match up with the young man standing before them, proclaiming scripture is fulfilled. Their expectation of how God might manifest and fulfill scripture is suddenly not so familiar or comfortable.
In prophetic fashion, Jesus seems to expect that he will be rejected by his own people. In a flash forward, Jesus compares himself and his mission with two of the great prophets. Elisha had healed the Syrian general Naaman through the intercession of a young Jewish girl. Jesus will later heal the slave of a gentile centurion through the intercession of the Jewish elders. Elijah raised to life the son of the widow of Zarephath. Jesus will raise the son of the widow of Naim from the dead. As with Elijah and Elisha before him, Jesus reaches out to the lowly in society, and in this the Messiah’s mission is realized.
Jesus’ good news is not the news the people expect or want to hear. He challenges their beliefs, customs, and status quo. Jesus points out how through the great prophets, God worked for the salvation of outsiders. This is directly against the Jewish understanding that God reserves grace only for the chosen people. But while the world creates division, God is working toward unity.
Prophets throughout scripture uttering God’s truth brought crowds to rage and rejection. This crowd is no different, and filled with rage they drive Jesus out of town, to the edge of a cliff, intent on hurling him off. Jesus will continue to be rejected by those unwilling or unable to hear the Good News, until finally they succeed in killing him. But not today.
Mystically, the path cleared as if by divine bodyguards, Jesus simply walks through the crowd and goes on his way. Jesus went on his way, perhaps to fulfill his prophetic mission. Perhaps Jesus went on his way to Jerusalem where he will experience suffering, death, and resurrection. Perhaps Jesus went on his way to show us all the way of love.
Paul begins his great treatise on love by saying, “I will show you a still more excellent way.” Paul is laying out a theological foundation, not a parenthetical aside with comforting words spoken at weddings. Love is why God sent the prophets. Love is the center of the Messiah’s mission. Love is fundamental in our relationship with God and each other. God’s love is the bond between God and humanity today and in the life to come. The greatest gift is love.
We are all called to the prophetic mission, to join Christ in God’s continuing creation. Our litmus test is simple. If it is not about love, it’s not about God. The love of God is revealed in the mission of Christ, and we are called to participate. But living the way of love may spark rage and rejection. Whether we are reluctant or rejected, love is the ultimate and only enduring reality, and our only response. All other gifts are transitory. What is Jesus calling us to today if not to love? The way of love is a call and a challenge. Love often stands against the ways of the world. At times it may even be uncomfortable. We are called to be agents of God’s love in the world, as we experience the unshakable grasp of God’s love on our lives. We are called to be prophets of God’s love. Thanks be to God, we are loved, and we are to go and do likewise, and love like Jesus. Amen.