28 March 2011

Hear the truth and be blessed

3rd Week of Lent (M)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Joseph Church, Ponchatoula

Prophets aren't God's cheerleaders. Nor are they salesmen or politicians. Cheerleaders dance and sing in order to stir the competitive spirit of a crowd, especially when their team is losing. Salesmen draw a potential customer's attention to all the positive features of the products they're selling and do their best to disguise the products' flaws. Politicians gauge the mood of a crowd and try to stay ahead of the pack in order to appear as though they are leading instead of just following. Prophets don't try to cheer us up. They don't rush around trying to make a deal with us. And they never lie, cheat, or steal for power and popularity. Prophets see the difference between where God wants His people to be and where His people actually are; the difference between our potential for holiness and our actual holiness. And b/c they see these differences so clearly, they do the one thing that will guarantee that they will be universally despised and mostly ignored: they tell the truth, God's truth. Those who hear God's truth boldly spoken rarely call themselves lucky. More often than not, they call themselves offended, excluded, hurt, discriminated against, or just plain angry. Fortunately, the truth will set you free. Unfortunately, it will also really tick you off.

When Jesus says, “. . .no prophet is accepted in his own native place,” he's telling us that prophets in general are seen as a nuisance, and local prophets are welcomed to their own hometown as a natural disaster. In the synagogue, Jesus reads a passage from Isaiah that heralds the coming of the Messiah. Then he claims that the passage has been fulfilled in the hearing of the congregation. Though most are amazed at this revelation, they quickly begin questioning Jesus about his family and suggesting that a local boy can't be the Messiah. They know his mama and daddy. They remember him as a kid. How are they suppose to take this guy seriously when they know that he grew up just down the street? Jesus reminds them that when God's own people ignored the prophets He sent to call them to repentance, God sent his prophets Elijah and Elisha to a Gentile widow and an Syrian leper instead. The widow was fed in a time of famine and the leper cured of his disease. They listened to God's truth, and they were set free from their afflictions. Those gathered in the synagogue didn't want to hear this from Jesus. They grow angry and drive him out of town with the intention of tossing him over a cliff. 

When God's people won't listen to His truth spoken through His chosen prophets, He will send His blessings to those ready and willing to receive them. The starving widow shared what little she had with Elijah and was blessed with abundance. The leper, Naaman, obeyed Elisha and was cleansed of his leprosy. While these two Gentiles listen to God's truth, God's own people whine and complain, rejecting His truth by testing His fidelity to the covenant. Though they are thirsty, hungry, and wracked with disease, God's own people refuse to obey His law, refuse to receive His prophets, and refuse to give Him His due worship. Why are they surprised when His blessings go to those who listen to His truth? 

The Church is thirsty, hungry, and wracked with disease. Are we rejecting His truth by testing His fidelity to the New Covenant? Do we obey His law of love; receive His appointed prophets; and give Him worship worthy of His majesty? When we hear the truth spoken, are we offended, wounded, feel excluded? Or do we receive Him with all humility and give Him thanks for all that He has given us? His truth will set us free, and it will really tick us off. But it is far better to be free and blessed than it is to be enslaved and cursed. Freedom and blessings go to those who prepare their hearts with gladness and thanksgiving to listen to God's Word.

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