The Role of the Prophet: Speaking Truth
From Homily: 26th Sunday Ordinary Time Yr B
One of the great tensions in the Church is played out in today’s Liturgy of the Word – the Role of the Prophet. Moses says, “[i]f only the whole people of the Lord were prophets.” There is a sense in which every member of the Church is called to be prophetic. Listen to St James take up that role in words that cut right to the bone of society – both then and now – “An answer for the rich. Start crying, weep for the miseries that are coming to you. Your wealth is all rotting, your clothes are all eaten up by moths. All your gold and your silver are corroding away, and the same corrosion will be your own sentence . . . It was you who condemned the innocent and killed them; they offered you no resistance.”
Imagine in today’s Ireland if someone were to speak truth to power in such a fashion – Would they be popular? Would such sentiments be enough to get a person charged in the court of public opinion with the offence of “language unbecoming”? Would they be commended for their commentary on opulence and on the desire to terminate the innocent in the womb, in the homeless shelter and in the nursing home? Jesus prophetic tone lie in this tradition when he says: “But anyone who is an obstacle to bring down one of these little ones who have faith, would be better thrown into the sea with a great millstone round his neck.”
For sure, the role of prophet has never been an easy one – the prophetic voice is always a disconcerting one to hear and even more disconcerting for the person cast in the role of prophet – because the instinctive response of the masses is to commit a character assassination, thereby silencing the truth carried within the voice of the brave prophet speaking from the outside into the cosy cartels of every generation.
Certainly, we can say there are both true and false prophets – so an element of discernment and caution is legitimate but the question for those who hear the voice of the prophet is to consider the message not the messenger. If the message is true, then the stature of the messenger is not at issue. In other words, we should play the ball not the man when it comes to discerning the veracity of what is said when we are confronted with the prophetic voices of our time. It is a wise person indeed, who knows to keep their ears open for seeds of the word of God.
What then is the role of God’s chosen prophets? I would say just two things here – firstly you will know God’s prophet in your midst when they speak not for themselves but for God – they highlight not their own story but God’s story and God’s perspective. A person whose ego is bigger than God in their pronouncements is a false prophet and should be treated as such. Secondly, a true prophet of God’s word is not a fortune teller or a soothsayer of stars and tealeaves, nor a reader of tarot cards, nor able to predict the course of future geo-political, social and weather events. A prophet of God calls God’s people back to the ways of God – “Anyone who is not against us is for us” says the Lord . . . “but anyone who is an obstacle to bring down one of these little ones who have faith, would be better thrown into the sea with a great millstone round his neck.”
Irish society is entering a very perilous moment right now – the economy is booming for some, while a whole other section of people exists in destitution, hopelessness and invisibility. The “have’s” and the “have nots” are locked in conflict and Irish society, as a whole, seems to be about to forget the effects of the recent great recession in favour of letting the good times roll again unfettered and without constraint. We were down for long enough – its time to let lose again is a very tempting position to adopt! We could do with some prophets in our midst right now to caution against a repeat of the unbridled greed and self-indulgence that caused us such misery in the first instance. It is important to note here that the discrepancy between the “have’s” and “have nots” is not limited to financial conflict – particularly in a moneyed society such as ours where the conflict can frequently be about those who have or have not got peace of mind and quality time, those who have a stable family home and those who do not, those who know God and those who do not! Perhaps St James has much to say in 2018 even though his words were first uttered around the year 60 AD:
“An answer for the rich. Start crying, weep for the miseries that are coming to you. Your wealth is all rotting, your clothes are all eaten up by moths. All your gold and your silver are corroding away, and the same corrosion will be your own sentence, and eat into your body. . . . On earth you have had a life of comfort and luxury; in the time of slaughter you went on eating to your heart’s content. It was you who condemned the innocent and killed them; they offered you no resistance.”
It would be wrong to take from this a criticism of people of means and wealth. Every society has wealthy people and every society needs wealthy people. The issue for Ireland is the danger of a collective amnesia of the cycle of boom and bust which brought Irish people to their knees ten years ago this very weekend. We all know of people for whom it all became too much in the aftermath of the Bank Guarantee in September 2008. The prophetic cautioning of Irish society as a whole is important now as the danger of repeating the blunder of mistaking greed for prosperity is on our door-step. Were Ireland to go down the path of excess and greed in the next year or two, the margins of Irish society and those left-behind would grow even more and the divisions in Irish society would be even more stark than they are today.
Let us listen then carefully in our lives to God’s prophetic voice – to the word of life that cautions us to seek God in all things and to curb our appetite for the things of this world. Let us listen for the voice that challenges us to share what we have with those who have not! Let us listen to God word – the word of truth and of true life. As Irish society prepares to navigate this tempting cul-de-sac of material excess and financial extravagance, it would be a very prophetic moment for us to recall Venerable Fulton Sheen’s words: “It is easy to find truth; it is hard to face it, and harder still to follow it.”
Rev Seán Corkery
CC, Church of Resurrection, Mallow Co.Cork