Fr. Philip Neri Powell
St Albert the Great Priory
Think twice before opening your door to a prophet wielding a sword. That could be a fortune-cookie fortune, or a Jewish proverb, or even a bumper sticker for your Volvo. Wherever you might read it, it is sound advice. Prophets by nature are dangerous people. Often they not only tell us secrets we do not want to hear but they perform in ways we do not want to see. They expose our sins; speak in weird parables; interpret dreams and nature wonders; they are almost always dirty, unnecessarily hairy, and not well-dressed. They rave and gesticulate wildly, sometimes cursing and calling down destruction on our lives. Prophets are indeed dangerous b/c like their more modern counterpart, the poet, they are mad. It comes with spending too much time in the desert listening to God. So, imagine if you will one of these guys showing up at your door late one night, wielding a sword and shouting your repentance. What do you do? The smart ones among us, call the police. The brave sneak around back and turn the water hose on him. The truly foolish open the door and invite him in. Being ourselves fools for Christ, we glory when he hear Jesus say to his Apostles: “Do not think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth. I have come to bring not peace but the sword.” Do you reach for the doorknob, the phone, or the hose?
We have been reading scripture long enough to know that Jesus is prone to these outrageous declarations, shocking pronouncements designed to smack us in the face with the hard reality he is preaching. If nothing else, Jesus refuses to dilute the strong wine of his gospel, to mix his wild message of divine mercy into a sweet pabulum. Almost nothing he teaches is easy for us to swallow whole. His lesson to the Apostles this morning is no exception: “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me…whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me…whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” That sound you hear is the pounding of a prophet’s sword hacking away at our easy complacency. There is no peace, no worldly peace to be enjoyed once you have opened the door to this sword wielding prophet from the mountain. Get out the Glade air-freshener and draw a hot bath. He’s here to stay.
Though Christ’s message is freely given and hard to hear—a gift of eternal life to all who receive it—there is a price to pay. Not a price to pay before enjoying his peace, but a consequence to choosing to let him into your home. What could be divisive, violent, or seditious about a message of mercy, love, and forgiveness? Whether your heart is set on violent vengeance, or simply nursing petty wounds; or, whether you enjoy others being indebted to you, or live like a leech on someone else’s fortune, Christ’s presence in your home means choosing another way, another path to walk. Old habits of accounting grievances or racking up scores to settle must be abandoned in favor of choosing the good for your friends and enemies alike. Old habits of living with the privileges of rank and wealth, living on the harvest of those you see as less than worthy to live with you, these habits have to be turned toward service. The consequence is a home destroyed, a home turned outward and upside-down. Swords cut along both edges.
Jesus tells his Apostles that when one receives a prophet because he is a prophet, one receives a prophet’s reward. John the Baptist’s head was served to Herod on a platter. Peter and Paul received their reward nailed to a cross. Other prophets waste away in prison, or find their reward at the barrel-end of a gun. Maybe a prophet’s reward is not worldly peace but martyrdom. No one likes a prophet. They tell us things that we do not want to hear. Of course, Jesus also tells his Apostles that when one receives a righteous man because he is righteous, one receives a righteous man’s reward. Is this any better than a prophet’s reward? Not really. Rarely do the truly righteous find a comfortable reward in this world. The righteous are no less annoying than prophets and they are often persecuted for their stubborn refusal to compromise.
Where does that leave us? Do we reach for the doorknob, the phone, or the hose? Whichever you choose, reach with fear and trembling. The sword cuts both ways. And it always cuts.