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  • Writer's pictureThe Hermit of Antipolo

And They Took Offense At Him (Thought for the Day Part 19)

Today’s readings:

Jeremiah 26:1-9

Psalm 69:5-14

Matthew 13:54-58

The life of a prophet is fraught with hardships and trials. This is not just due to their usual ascetic lifestyle, but more because of the antagonism and persecution they suffer at the hands of those they address prophetic messages to.

Oftentimes people can see that a prophet does have special gifts. In the case of Jesus, that greatest of prophets, “They were astonished and said, ‘Where did this man get such wisdom and mighty deeds?’” (Mt 13:54b). But rather than honor him, listen humbly to him, and respond positively to what he says, “they took offense at him.” (Mt 13:57a).

Jesus gives one reason for such a reaction. “A prophet is not without honor except in his native place and in his own house.” (Mt 13:57b). Why is that? Because in truth a prophet is an ordinary man (except Jesus), is not perfect, and may even have many faults. People who know him, live with him and work with him are aware of all these. “Is he not the carpenter’s son? ... Are not his sisters all with us?” (Mt 13:55a,56a).

A more basic reason is that people simply do not like what they hear. The prophet speaks God’s word, nothing more, nothing less. “Whatever I command you, tell them, and hold nothing back.” (Jer 26:2b). Some leaders want to be nice, to downplay their correction, to couch harsh words with honey, so as not to offend. But God has a specific purpose in sending His prophet. “Perhaps they will listen and turn, all of them from their evil way, so that I may repent of the evil I plan to inflict upon them for their evil deeds.” (Jer 26:3).

Again, unfortunately, the reaction was negative. “When Jeremiah finished speaking all that the Lord commanded him to speak to all the people, then the priests, the prophets, and all the people laid hold of him, crying, ‘You must die!’” (Jer 26:8). Notice that everyone was against Jeremiah. Even if many elders and brethren do not agree with what the prophetic leader says, it does not mean they are right. Indeed oftentimes God’s people can be blind, hard-hearted, hard of hearing, not open to new creative initiatives of the Spirit, not wanting their comfort zones invaded.

Their reaction can be violent, verbally as well as physically. But they have no just cause for their posture. David lamented “those who hate me without cause” (Ps 69:5b) and “my enemies without reason.” (Ps 69:5d). Even as the prophetic leader patiently explains what God wants done, they persist in their unbelief and hardness of heart.

Such is the life of a prophet. Such life, with all its hardships, is God’s blessing upon him. It is unfortunate though that God’s people may not realize His blessing upon them, imparted through His prophet. But the prophet realizes he is truly blessed in his afflictions. What is the proper posture of a prophet?

The prophet is first of all the very one aware of his shortcomings. They often are reluctant to speak God’s word, because they know how they themselves fall short (consider Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah). “God, you know my folly; my faults are not hidden from you.” (Ps 69:6). Others need to realize that a prophet does not speak as “holier than thou” but simply obeys God, even in his imperfection.

Second, the prophet holds God’s people in his heart. He does not delight in chastising them, but desires only that they change for the good, according to God’s will. “Let those who wait in hope for you, Lord of hosts, not be shamed because of me. Let those who seek you, God of Israel, not be disgraced because of me.” (Ps 69:7).

Third, the prophet knows he will be oppressed but obeys God anyway. “For it is on your account I bear insult, that disgrace covers my face.” (Ps 69:8). After all, he obeys the God, Jesus, whom people spat on, scourged and crucified. The prophet glories in the very cross of Christ.

Fourth, the prophet knows Jesus came not for peace but for division, and that his words, authentically from God, will cause division between those who heed his words and those who do not. He speaks boldly even to his most intimate circles--his family, his fellow elders, his closest brethren. He begs God for those closest to him, of course as well as others, to heed God’s words spoken through him, but if not, he will accept the painful consequences. “I have become an outcast to my kindred, a stranger to my mother’s children.” (Ps 69:9).

Fifth, the prophet has zeal for the Kingdom, and will do everything in order to help establish God’s Kingdom on earth, including the difficult and challenging call to mission. He knows such passion will get him into trouble, as there are many brethren content to sip their pina coladas at the Country Club. “Because zeal for your house has consumed me, I am scorned by those who scorn you.” (Ps 69:10). Many would not want him to move ahead with such passion, to have such a grand vision, to shake up the sleeping or weary warriors. Unfortunately for those, they do not realize that when they reject or scorn the prophet, they are actually rejecting and scorning God, who has sent His prophet.

Sixth, the prophet is humble, not proud, even as God is revealing His mind and heart to him and using him as His mouthpiece. “I humbled my spirit with fasting” (Ps 69:11a). The prophet is simple, not flamboyant or extravagant, not given to trappings of power or position, not worldly. “I clothed myself in sackcloth” (Ps 69:12a). Of course oftentimes such posture can invite scorn, including from servant leaders who are more leaders than servants, because the prophet’s stance is an indictment of their own. As such, “this led only to scorn” (Ps 69:11b), “I became a byword for them. Those who sit in the gate (i.e., elders) gossip about me” (Ps 69:12b-13a).

Seventh, the prophet puts his full trust in God. “But I will pray to you, Lord, at a favorable time. God, in your abundant kindness, answer me with your sure deliverance.” (Ps 69:14). He might be tempted to tone down his words (he will be told by people to do so), he might be tempted to back off and not cause trouble, but in the end he will obey God, and look only to God’s kindness and deliverance.

If a prophet is authentically of God, if what he says is from God, if God has sent him for the purpose of bringing His people back to Himself (from veering away) or guiding them in the way they are to go (on mission), then such negative posture becomes tragic for everyone. “And he did not work many mighty deeds there because of their lack of faith.” (Mt 13:58). Indeed, if God’s people do not listen, if they do not mend their ways, if they do not go in the way God wants them to go, then God’s will for them will not come to fruition. God will not be able to work in power in and through them.

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