The Twenty-sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time: Would that all of the people of the LORD were prophets!

Today’s readings

Would that all the people of the LORD were prophets! Would that the LORD might bestow his spirit on them all!

When we think about prophets and prophecy, I think our minds always take us to ancient days.  All the prophets we can think of lived many centuries ago: Moses, Elijah, Jeremiah, Amos and all the rest, right up to John the Baptist who was the last of the prophets of old and the beginning of the prophecy of the new.  All of it culminating in the person of Jesus Christ, whose prophecy was the voice of God himself.  But I think our readings today call us to look at prophecy in a new light, and to be open to the fact that there are many more prophets than we can think of right away, prophets that are a bit more contemporary than Moses and Elijah and all the others.

For Moses, prophecy was a huge task.  He bore the responsibility of bringing God’s message of salvation to a people who had become used to living without it.  He was to inaugurate the covenant between God and a people who had largely forgotten about God, or certainly thought God had forgotten about them.  His prophetic burden was great, but God offered to take some of his prophetic spirit and bestow it on the seventy elders.  So seventy were chosen, a list was drawn up, and a ceremony was prepared.

Two of their number – Eldad and Medad – were missing from the group during the ceremony, but the spirit was given to them anyway.  But this had Joshua all bent out of shape.  How could they be prophesying when they had not taken part in the ritual?  So he complains about it to Moses, who clearly does not share his concern.  He accuses Joshua of jealousy and says to him, “Would that all the people of the LORD were prophets! Would that the LORD might bestow his spirit on them all!”

Moses’ vision for the ministry was bigger than himself, bigger than Joshua, bigger than even the chosen seventy.  And he makes a good point here.  What if every one of God’s people knew God well enough to prophesy in God’s name?  What if all of us who claim to follow God could speak out for God’s concern for the needy, the marginalized and the dispossessed?  What if every single one of us, when facing a decision, would immediately consider what God wants in that moment?  The world would certainly be a much different place.  Joshua’s concern was that the rules be followed.  Moses’ concern was that God’s work be done.

And so there’s a rather obvious parallel in the first part of today’s Gospel.  This time it’s John who is all bent out of shape.  Someone was casting out demons in Jesus’ name, and even worse, whoever it was was apparently successful!  Jesus, of course, does not share John’s concern.  Jesus’ vision of salvation was bigger than John’s.  If demons are being cast out in Jesus’ name, what does it matter who is doing it?  If people are being healed from the grasp of the evil one and brought back to the family of God, well then, praise God!

I think the point here that we need to get is that true prophecy, and really all ministry, doesn’t always fit into a neat little box.  During the rite of baptism, the person who has just been baptized is anointed with the sacred Chrism oil – the oil that anoints us in the image of Jesus as priest, prophet and king.  It is part of our baptismal calling for all of the people of the Lord to be prophets.  And so we really ought to be hearing the word of the Lord all the time, from every person in our lives.  Not only that, but we should be speaking the word of the Lord in everything we say and do!

Because prophets might be everywhere: God gives us all people who are prophetic witnesses to us: people who say and live what they believe.  They might be our parents or our children, the colleague at work, the person who sits next to us in math class, or even the neighbor who seems to always want to talk our ear off.  At the basic level, one of the most important questions that arises in today’s Liturgy of the Word is, who are the prophets among us?  Who is it in our lives that has been so gifted with the spirit that they challenge us to be better people and live better lives?

But as much as we have those kind of prophetic voices in our lives, there are also the othervoices.  These are the voices of our culture that drag us down to the depths of brokenness, debauchery and despair.  That, I think is what Jesus meant by all that drastic surgery he talked about at the end of the Gospel reading today.

I don’t think any of us needs to chop off a hand, but instead chop off some of the things those hands do.  Maybe it’s a business deal that is not worthy of our vocation as Christians.  Or it could be a sinful activity that we need to abandon.  In the same way, we probably shouldn’t lop off a foot.  But we may indeed need to cut out of our lives some of the places those feet take us.  Whether they’re actual places or situations that provide occasions for sin, they must go.  I’m not suggesting that you gouge out an eye.  But maybe cut out some of the things that those eyes see.  Whether it’s places on the internet we ought not go, or television shows or movies that we should not see, we need to turn away from those voices.  Some people may find that they need to get rid of the computer or television, or put them in a more public spot, or find an activity that takes them away from those things.  It may be hard to do without them, but better that than being so wrapped up in ourselves that we forget about God.  Better to live without these things than to be forever without God.

Prophecy is a huge responsibility, and we are all tasked with it.  Being open to that prophecy is a challenge to humility.  We might be the prophets, or we might be the ones hearing the prophets, but in either case we have work to do.  Prophets need to be faithful to God’s spirit, and hearers need to be open to the word and ready to act on it.  Prophecy nearly always calls us to a radical change.  May God help us to recognize the prophets among us, and make us ready to hear the word of the Lord.

Would that all the people of the LORD were prophets! Would that the LORD might bestow his spirit on them all!

Tuesday of the First Week of Lent

Today’s readings

The prophet Isaiah and Jesus speak today about the great power of words. Isaiah speaks specifically of the power of God’s word, a word that will not return empty but will go out and accomplish the purpose for which God sent it.  We see the word that the prophet speaks of here, of course as the Word – with a capital “W.”  That Word is Jesus Christ who comes to accomplish the salvation of the world, the purpose of God ever since the world’s creation.

The prayer that Jesus gives us today, the classic prayer that echoes in our hearts in good times and in bad, is a prayer with a specific purpose in mind.  That prayer, if we pray it rightly, recognizes that God’s holiness will bring about a Kingdom where his will will be done in all of creation.  It begs God’s forgiveness and begs also that we too would become a forgiving and merciful people, just as God is merciful to us.  Finally, it asks for help with temptation and evil, something with which we struggle every day.

Today’s readings are a plea that God’s will would finally be done.  That his Word would go forth and accomplish God’s purpose.  That his will would be done on earth as in heaven.  As we pray those familiar words, they can often go past us without catching our attention.  But today, maybe we can slow down just a little, and pray them more reflectively, that God’s will would be accomplished in every place, starting in our very own lives.

Because to God belongs the Kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever.

Thursday of the Twenty-sixth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

I want to begin my homily by reminding you of the words we heard in our first reading from Nehemiah:

He read out of the book from daybreak till midday,
in the presence of the men, the women,
and those children old enough to understand;
and all the people listened attentively to the book of the law.

But, not to worry, I won’t be preaching from daybreak to midday!

Today’s readings remind us that we are always in the “school” of the faith.  We don’t ever graduate from that school, until, of course, that great day, when we stand before our Lord to be judged, relying on his mercy and on our relationship with him, which is always a gift.  Those who unite themselves to our Lord in faith throughout their lives, those who continue to study the Scriptures and see them fulfilled in our hearing, they have the promise of eternal life in the Kingdom of God.

Saint Jerome, whose feast we celebrated earlier this week, underlined this for us.  He said that ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ, because for all of us who did not live in the same time as Jesus, we rely on the Scriptures not just to tell us who Christ was, but also to have a relationship with him, remembering that Jesus is always present in the proclamation of the Word of God.

We see two Scriptural moments in today’s Liturgy of the Word.  First, the Word is proclaimed.  Second, that Word has an effect on its hearers.  So first, the Word is proclaimed.  In the first reading, Ezra the priest reads from the scroll from daybreak to midday, in the presence of the men, the women, and those children old enough to understand.  It was quite the proclamation, and also included a kind of homily, apparently, since the reading tells us that Ezra provided an interpretation.

The second Scriptural moment is the Word’s effect on its hearers.  For Ezra, the Word produced a very emotional response.  The people bowed down in the presence of the Word, and began to weep.  The weeping is presumably because, hearing the Word, they realized how far they were from keeping its commandments.  I think we might have that same reaction sometimes.  Nehemiah then instructs them not to weep, but instead to rejoice and celebrate, because the proclamation of the Word on this holy day was an occasion for great joy.

And so today, as we hear the word of God, we too have to let those words have effect on us.  We are sent out as Jesus sent the disciples, with little but his own instruction.  That’s enough, and if we are faithful, we will see the word of God have an effect in every place we bring it.  Praise God for his powerful, effective Word.

Tuesday of the First Week of Lent

Today’s readings

The prophet Isaiah and Jesus speak today about the great power of words. Isaiah speaks specifically of the power of God’s word, a word that will not return empty but will go out and accomplish the purpose for which God sent it. We see the word that the prophet speaks of here, of course as the Word – with a capital “W.” That Word is Jesus Christ who comes to accomplish the salvation of the world, the purpose of God ever since the world’s creation.

The prayer that Jesus gives us today, the classic prayer that echoes in our hearts in good times and in bad, is a prayer with a specific purpose in mind. That prayer, if we pray it rightly, recognizes that God’s holiness will bring about a Kingdom where his will will be done in all of creation. It begs God’s forgiveness and begs also that we too would become a forgiving and merciful people, just as God is merciful to us. Finally, it asks for help with temptation and evil, something with which we struggle every day.

Today’s readings are a plea that God’s will would finally be done. That his Word would go forth and accomplish God’s purpose. That his will would be done on earth as in heaven. As we pray those familiar words, they can often go past us without catching our attention. But we are called to pray them today that God’s will would be accomplished in every place, starting with in our own lives.

Because to God belongs the Kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever.