Today's readings are all about prophecy. And we who are baptized into the Life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ are all called to be prophets in our own time, and in our own life circumstances. This is not just the work of the “professional” religious types. It is the duty of all of us!
What does it mean to be a prophet? If I took a poll on just that question, I'll bet that most of the answers I'd get back would be “one who foretells the future and future events.” But that's not right. We may read in scripture how prophets tell of events that end up happening. But the heart of what a prophet is all about is speaking for God, speaking the truth of God to His people, and very often to a people who don't want to hear it.
There are stories in the Old Testament about how these prophets have been through the mill. One was locked up in dungeon, another was told by God not to mourn at the death of his wife. Yet another was shoved into a log and sawed in half. Charming stories.
The Old Testament Scriptures often talk about professional prophets, those who do this prophet thing for a living. Yet very often, God had pointed these out as frauds. The true prophets very often did other things for a living. One was a “ dresser of Sycamores”, for example. But the hallmark of a true prophet is one who is called by God. Scripture tells of how God approached them personally and called them to speak His word to the people. Prophets like Jeremiah, even though the people gave him a really hard time, felt that he could not keep the message of God inside. It was a compulsion for him. He felt as if he would burst if he did not proclaim God's truth. The same with St. Paul.
In our First Reading, the prophet Ezekiel is sent by God, not to a foreign or distant land, like Jonah, but to his own people, the Israelites. Yet God warns him that these people have become obstinate. They have rebelled against God for generations, so their attitude has become hardened. Plus, Ezekiel's own people knew him. They saw him grow up and develop as a person. They are not going to just accept the word of this person whom they knew.
It's almost like, when I was going into college many years ago, I told my extended family that I was going to major in English. Now I was a quiet boy. I didn't make many waves in my family. But going off to college was the time in everyone's life where they spread their wings and fly from the nest to start their own life. So I told them about my plans to major in English, which I knew involved not just grammar, but also great literature of the world. But they didn't understand that. They went around balking, “ English! Whaddaya need English for? I talk good, don't I?”
Well, Ezekiel was warned that he would get this, and a whole lot worse. God sent him to challenge the rebellion of his own people. They have turned their backs on God and God is not happy about it. No one wants to hear that they've been bad, even if they know it.
This very difficult task was not just for Ezekiel thousands of years ago in a far off land. This task is for each of us. We have been baptized into the Life of Jesus Christ, and thus we are also called to proclaim God's truth to a world that not only has strayed so far from it, but has attempted to redefine what good and bad, right and wrong are.
And our own brothers and sisters in Christ, our fellow Catholics move right along with this status quo. We have been taught that the Eucharist is the source and summit of our lives. How many Catholics go to Mass on Sunday? One of the polls puts the U.S. At 30%. How many Catholics go along with the popular ideas that run contrary to Catholic moral teaching?
God tells Ezekiel that this will be a rough task, but even if they do not accept correction and repent of their wicked ways, they will at least know that a prophet has been in their midst. Mother Teresa had always said that we are not called to be successful, but only to be faithful. If someone you know hasn't been coming to Mass regularly, keep gently reminding them on a regular basis. Try not to get discouraged. In another part of the Book of Ezekiel, it says that if you see a friend straying from the right path and you warn them, but they do not heed, they will get in trouble, but your life will be spared. But, if you see a friend straying from the right path, but you don't warn him, you'll be liable as well.
This will not make us popular with the “in-crowd”, but rest assured, it didn't make Jesus popular with His own home town either. As they heard Him preaching, they muttered to each other, “Where did he get all this? Isn't this the carpenter's son? Didn't we see him running around with his friends when he was a kid?” They thought they knew Jesus, so they pigeon-holed Him into their own conception of Him. So Scripture says He was not able to do many powerful deeds there. But, in spite of all that, God incarnate has been in their midst.
Today, we receive Jesus Christ in order to allow Him to consume us, and that we may bring Him and His Gospel to everyone we meet. We have the truth on our side. The truth is not anyone's opinion, it is objective. The truth is not a something, but a somebody: Jesus Christ. And even if no one accepts the truth that we bring to them, at least they will know that someone – you – was able to reach out and make Christ present to them. They will know that a prophet has been in their midst.