Sunday, September 10, 2006

Prophets

Today was a study on prophets, and upon the message God sends with them. Prophets were a frequent occurrence in the Old Testament, and looking at many of the stories, we can see that, often, the Word is not easy to share. The Word can be heavy, and in times of burden, it is so much easier to remain carefree and light humored. Yet, we must respond when God calls upon us to do our work.


The Calling of a Prophet
Ez 2:2-5 As he spoke, the Spirit came into me and raised me to my feet, and I heard him speaking to me.

He said: "Son of man, I am sending you to the Israelites, to a rebellious nation that has rebelled against me; they and their fathers have been in revolt against me to this very day. The people to whom I am sending you are obstinate and stubborn. Say to them, 'This is what the Sovereign LORD says.' And whether they listen or fail to listen—for they are a rebellious house—they will know that a prophet has been among them.

Ezekiel was called by the Lord to travel to the Israelites, who at the time had turned away from God's laws. God had put it upon him to enter a strange land and tell the inhabitants that they were in the wrong. God did not tell Ezekiel exactly what to say, as far as judgement of them, but he did leave him the instruction to say to them "This is what the Sovereign LORD says." God also reminded Ezekiel that the people may or may not listen to him at all, but at least they would know, by his words, that Ezekiel was a prophet.

How often we find ourselves in the same struggle. We know that, in our hearts and minds, that God would want us to speak up about what is right and wrong as far as the actions (or inactions) of others are concerned. We can point to our bibles and quote scripture, but truly, it may not make any difference. As a prophet, our job is difficult, as our message may fall on deaf ears. God told Ezekiel that he would face this challenge, and He did not tell Ezekiel that He, God, would be too upset with him if the people refused to listen. The expression "pearls before swine" comes to mind at this point. If we speak with the authority of the Lord (and not out of our own desire to be seen as a great prophet), then people will recognize us for what we are. They may not listen, but they will know in their hearts.


The Key to being a good Prophet
Paul ponders the ramifications of being called as a prophet in his letter to the Corinthians (2 Cor 12:7-10). He tells them "To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong."

God is infinitely intelligent. He understands the pride human hold in their hearts. Paul's own prophetly pride was kept in check by God. The Lord had given him powerful insight into things, and the people were in awe of Paul, yet God made certain that Paul's own pride was tempered with humility. Three times, the Lord caused Paul to be reminded of just exactly who he was, and He instructed Paul to pay attention to these lessons. God told Paul "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." What God was saying was very simple: all that you are, every gift you have, comes from Me. Because of Paul's continued humility, God was able to work through him. The more Paul accepted his weaknesses and shortcomings, the more God worked through him. When Paul encountered hardships and taunts, he did not turn aside from his work, but used them to find a greater strength in the Lord.

How did Paul know that his words were from God, and not from his own ego or desire to be superior? Paul tempered every action with humility. Paul put his full trust in the Lord, and allowed himself to be an instrument. There are many people who claim to be prophets of the Lord - everything from TV evangelists to the strange men who stand on street corners proclaiming "the end is near!" - yet, falling back on Ez 2:2-5, we can tell if someone is a true man of God and a prophet just by what they proclaim. When it is from the heart, filled with humility and love, and when the speaker shares the Word out of a desire to better those around him (while he, the prophet, becomes only more humble), the words are true. This is often the greatest test! Anyone can proclaim the Word, but when insulted or taunted, the speaker will take one of two actions: he will become more humble, admit his own shortcomings gladly, and continue to teach those around him of God's will and mercy... or he will cast his message aside, bring up his fists (or sharpen his tongue) and begin to attack back because his ego is offended.


The Prophet in Everyday life
Anyone can go to foreign nations and preach the Word. The most difficult obstacle is bringing the Word to everyday life. Jesus encountered this in His own ministry on earth. He had returned to His hometown, to find the reception less than illustrious.

In Mark 6:1-6, we read "Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed.

"Where did this man get these things?" they asked. "What's this wisdom that has been given him, that he even does miracles! Isn't this the carpenter? Isn't this Mary's son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren't his sisters here with us?" And they took offense at him.

Jesus said to them, "Only in his hometown, among his relatives and in his own house is a prophet without honor." He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. And he was amazed at their lack of faith."

This does not mean that Jesus was not who He was. What he probably encountered were the people He had known for most of his life. An older man could have snorted and said, "I remember when you were just a lad, only 3 feet tall!" A woman could have said, "I saw you going to the market with your mother every day!" These people knew Jesus, not as a prophet or God, but as the man (or boy) He was before His ministry began. They could not break away from their preconceived notions of Him. They were offended to think that Jesus, the son of a simple carpenter, was anything other than Jesus, the son of a simple carpenter.

Jesus, on his own behalf, recognized the limitations of the people's ability to accept things. Like Ezekiel, He faced the challenge of having his message fall upon deaf ears. He did do His best, but their lack of faith in Him prevented them from seeing Him for who He really was. He could cure a few, but they would never honor him as a 'true prophet' because they could not overcome their own mind set.

One of the best gifts God gives us is our faith. The best gift we can return to Him is trust. The people Jesus met in His hometown could not put their faith in Him, and thus they were unable to trust in the Lord. They may have accepted the Truth down the line, but by then it was too late for them to sit and listen to His Words. He was killed, and rose again, and returned to the Heavens - they missed out on a good opportunity to hear, firsthand, the Message God had sent.


What does it take to do God's work?
It is never easy to do God's work. We find ourselves up against all sorts of obstacles. We set off in one direction, only to find that God has moved us to a new pathway according to His will. My priest reminded us of this today, during his wonderful homily. He reminded us that Mother Teresa probably never realized as a young girl that she would one day travel far from Europe and settle in the middle of poverty, just to help ease the burdens of the starving children around her. Rosa Parks probably never realized on that wonderful day when, having worked long hours in a hot factory - and just wanting to sit down on the bus and rest her weary body - that she would breathe life into a movement that sought equality for all people, no matter their skin color. We never know what direction God will send us in.

Sometimes it only takes a simple action to get us going. Sometimes it only takes Trust in the Lord that all things will turn out right. Often, it is the willingness to accept our shortcomings and open ourselves up to being humble before the Lord.


The Prophet's mission
Doing God's work is the most rewarding thing you will ever undertake. You may not become famous like Mother Teresa or Rosa Parks. No one may acknowledge you for the good that you bring to the world, but God will bless you for it with renewed faith in Him, with mercy, and with grace. We are called, each of us, to be prophets to the lands. We are called to bring the Message of the Gospels to the world. The Word is not easy for some people to digest, and we will often meet with resistance, yet we foster this burden gladly, for we can rest assured that, although we thing that our words fall upon deaf ears, the people may look back and give what we say some consideration after we have moved on.

We are not charged by God to damn all those around us. God does not need us beating people into submission. Instead, we are to share the promise of Salvation. We are to lead by example, admitting when we are weak and praising God for giving us strength. When we try to speak with the Authority of God, we can only succeed at it when we speak with the Authority of the Holy Spirit working through us. We can not speak with that Authority when we allow our own faith to stagnate. Nor can we speak with any Authority when our words spring from our own desire to be seen as Holy by those we speak with.


A final reflection
Paul gives this insight in Acts 20:28-32: Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.

"Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified."

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

The greatest need in the world today is faith in God and courage to do his will. We have greater responsibility than ever to learn and to live the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We have greater tasks before us. The final work is not all done yet...We need courage to enter into those new realms; we need courage to meet our present situations and conditions. "Be of good courage, and he shall strengthen your heart, all ye that hope in the Lord." (Psalm 31:24.)
Let us face our difficulties with courage. BiddyKelly

Ahmad Khalid said...

It is a really good post. As yu said, tt's difficult to follow God's path as one encounters numerious obstacles in the way, but if we have a strong resolve and courage, we could achieve it and it is really rewarding. While the world is progressing rapidly in terms of technology and science, it is equally regressing in terms of humanity, spiritualness and honesty.