Called to be A Prophet! 4th Sunday
Sermon by Emmanuel Suntheni OSB – Fourth Sunday In Ordinary Time
Sermon And Christian Act In The Word
Theme: Before you were born, I knew you! Called to be A Prophet!
Point of Reflection: Do we realise that by the virtue of our baptism, we are called to be prophets? Before I formed you, I knew you and consecrated you.
First Reading: Jeremiah 1:4–5, 17–19
Psalm: Psalm 71:1–6, 15, 17
Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 12:31–13:13
Gospel: Luke 4:21–30
Sermon (Reflection): Last Sunday’s Liturgy of the Word showed how Ezra, Paul, and Jesus worked to liberate their people from ignorance. Today’s Scripture readings elucidate the mission God has planted in each and every Christian. God knows every one of us by name, by the way we live our Christian life and our hearts. Today’s first Scriptural reading (Cf. Jeremiah 1:4–5, 17–19) tells us about the vocation story of Prophet Jeremiah and the central message is that God knew Jerimiah before he was born “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” Today, the Lord is telling us all, that God knew us before we were born, He consecrated us.
Why are we still stagnant in living a holy life as God has consecrated us during our baptism?
The word “consecrate” implies a divine appointment for a special task, which God subsequently defined. As Christian, we are consecrated persons and we need to live our life as consecrated persons by denouncing evil and doing good. This is well enshrined in the gifts God gave us. The second reading from St Paul to the Corinthians (Cf. 1 Corinthians 12:31–13:13) confirms such charismatic gifts which God has given us and above all the Charismatic gifts we have been given there is love.
St Paul identifies God’s single and supreme gift, which the members of the Corinthian community should pursue above all others, love. He begins by emphasizing that all other gifts: tongues, prophecy, understanding, knowledge, and faith, and even self-sacrifice, mean nothing if they do not originate in love. Services and ministries can be exercised for the wrong reasons, such as gaining popularity or for profit. It is love that ensures that the charismatic gifts are employed and exercised for the right purpose and reason.
But what is love? For Paul, love (“agape” in Greek) means a way of living and acting in a manner beneficial to one’s fellow community members. He provides a descriptive definition of love listing fifteen attitudes and actions which describe love.
Love includes patience, kindness, the pursuit of truth, perseverance, faith, hope, and endurance. Adversely, love excludes envy, boastfulness, arrogance, rudeness, self-interest, anger, resentfulness, and wrongdoing.
A person who loves is an amiable, constant, faithful, and fruitful community member who creates unity and makes the group grow. A person without love is self-centred and contentious, one who disrupts and destroys the community bonds.
It is because of the love of God that we were created and that is why God knew us before we were born. St Paul emphasizes that this kind of love is permanent because it originates from God himself. His list of qualities of love describes how God deals with humanity. Thus, the one who knows and understands God acts in a God-like way through this very practical love. The faithful will reach the fullness of this love only after they see God “face to face” and become perfect. Until that time, they ought to live love out in the community, accompanied by hope and faith.
Today’s Gospel (Cf. Luke 4:21–30) narrates the second part of Jesus’ visit to Nazareth. When he read from the prophet Isaiah and declared that he came to fulfil those words as a liberator and revealer, his townspeople praised him and rejoiced. One of their own was a great prophet! All that changed dramatically when Jesus declared that his prophetic mission would extend to the Gentiles.
Like other great prophets, Elijah and Elisha, Jesus intended to bring God’s salvation to the non-Jews also. This statement shocked the people of Nazareth. How could God’s Messiah offer salvation to the non-Jews? They expected him to be their Messiah, with liberation and healing benefiting them, and them alone. Going to the Gentiles sounded like a betrayal and blasphemy.
Since Jesus went against their expectations he would suffer rejection, just as many prophets before him, including Jeremiah. Shockingly, the people of his town who had praised him a moment before, now turned against him in a violent rage, attempting to kill him.
In this Gospel episode, Jesus stands up to his townspeople, his kin. He did so because he was fully aware of what his mission entailed and was determined to carry it out. He came to bring God’s salvation and healing to the entire world, not just to a particular Jewish town. Once rejected, Jesus stood up and “passed through the midst of them” moving away from an angry mob to continue his mission.
This was a very meaningful act showing that no opposition or threat of violence, even that coming from those closest to him, would change his mind. With clarity of purpose, Jesus walked away from the self-concerned and narrow-minded crowd, moving on to continue with his task. Today too as Christians, we may be rejected but we need to have strength and move on with God.
Christian Act in Word of God “Called to Play a prophetic role”
Today, the Scriptures is teaching us that each one of us can and should be a prophet, even if only in a small measure. We are priestly and prophetic people of God. We have clear examples to follow, and, above all, we have God who can and will sustain us in our prophetic mission.
Today’s liturgy brings before our eyes three biblical and prophetic figures. They are prophetic because they were determined to fulfil their God-given tasks no matter what. The chief task of the prophet is not to predict the future but make known God’s will and judgment regarding the present. Such prophetic figures have been appearing throughout history.
One might think of Archbishop Oscar Romero, Dorothy Day, or Nelson Mandela, and many others as examples of the prophets of our day. First, we must give thanks to our Lord for sending us such people, such prophets, who face tremendous difficulties and often persecution so that we might hear God’s message with clarity. Because that message is often challenging, these prophets face frequent opposition and rejection. Still, they do not hesitate to make great sacrifices to make God heard and known.
It is very important to be able to distinguish a false prophet from a genuine one. In some Christian Churches, prophets are simply preachers who can shout loud enough and speak so convincingly as to make others think that they are God’s own voice. Some of them are genuine, others are plainly crooks and cheats.
First, genuine representatives of God on earth never work for their own advantage or benefit. A friend recently visited one of the African countries which have been suffering from years of economic crisis and political strife. Travelling on official government business, he was taken on a brief sightseeing tour and spotted a huge palace built on a side of a local hill, surrounded by beautiful gardens and high walls. It turned out that this is the house of “God’s prophet” – a leader of a local sect whose career as a spokesperson for God brought him a fortune while his followers struggled for daily bread! One wonders what Jeremiah and Paul would have to say about this!
Jeremiah lived his life as an impoverished outcast, and his preaching brought him great trouble and unpopularity. Paul, in no uncertain terms, stated that preaching the gospel without any payment is a defining mark of a true apostle (cf. 1 Cor 9:18; 2 Cor 11:7).
Second, a true messenger of God has a deep and sound knowledge and understanding of his faith and tradition. He or she is a mature Christian whose beliefs are not based merely on hearsay and custom but on a personal experience of God and an intense study of Scripture and Church teaching. On such a basis, a true prophet can speak an unpopular message to his own people, and point out and critique false beliefs and practices, just as Jeremiah did.
Third, a true prophet understands his or her vocation and faithfully purses the goal of their work. They persist in their work despite opposition, not bending to the wishes and demands even of those closest to them following the example of Jesus. As Christians, let be true prophets.
Action: I will make us of my prophetic role by being a true prophet by words and deeds.
Prayer: Lord God, You knew us before we were born and you consecrated us, open our hearts to accept and live by the grace of many charismatic gifts you have given us, may we faithfully and productively make use of our prophetic roles we received during baptism by being good Christians, send your holy spirit to enlighten us, Amen.