A story is told about a man who was on his way home after a Sunday Mass. The man was asked, “Is the homily done?” The man replied, “The Word of God has been proclaimed and preached, but it remains to be done.”
A similar message was given by St. Francis de Sales. The saint said, “The test of a preacher is that the congregation goes away saying not ‘What a lovely sermon!’ but ‘I will do something.”
Last Sunday, in celebration of the National Bible Sunday, I quoted the words of St. Giles of Assisi. He stated, “The Word of God is not in the one who preaches it or the one who listens to it, but in the one who lives it.” Indeed, the Christian challenge is to be readers, hearers, doers and sharers of the Word of God.
The Gospel passage today is a continuation of the Gospel passage last Sunday. It begins with the ending of that Gospel passage wherein Jesus says: ‘Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”
Jesus refers to the biblical passage from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah that speaks about God’s work of total liberation and salvation for His people. This work of God is now being fulfilled in the person, preaching and ministry of Jesus Who has been anointed by the Holy Spirit.
These words do not apply to Jesus alone, but to His listeners as well. In fact, they
also apply to us who hear these same words in our time. It is not only Jesus Who is fulfilling God’s Word. Hearing or reading the Word of God challenges us to act on it. His Word must be done, lived and fulfilled in and through us.
In today’s liturgy, the first reading and the Gospel passage speak of prophecy. The second reading gives love as the very reason for the exercise of the prophetic gift.
The word prophet comes from the Greek word “prophetes” which means, “to speak on behalf of someone.” The word prophet is commonly misunderstood as someone who predicts the future. This is incidental to the role of a prophet. His real role is to speak on behalf of God, to be God’s messenger. A prophet discerns what is happening so that he may alert us to what God is saying in these events. A prophet denounces what is not of God and announces what is of God or according to God’s will.
When we were anointed with chrism oil during our Baptism, the priest prayed in part: “As Christ was anointed priest, prophet, king, so may you live always as members of His Body, sharing everlasting life.”
To be a prophet is the calling of every Christian. By virtue of baptism, we share in the threefold mission of Christ – the priestly, prophetic and kingly missions. Focusing just on the prophetic mission, we are called to receive and to proclaim God’s Word of love, peace, justice and reconciliation in the world. We are called to be receivers, hearers, readers, doers, sharers and proclaimers of God’s Word and of God’s will in the world. Our baptism makes it very clear that this is not just the duty of the priests and other ordained ministers; it is the duty of every baptized Christian.
In the first reading, the prophet Jeremiah uses very specific and personal terms to describe the prophetic mission entrusted to him by the Lord: “I formed you, I knew you, I dedicated you.” Jeremiah declares that his prophetic mission is from God Himself and it is going to be his very life. This prophetic mission also brings difficulties and sufferings. Thus, he needs “to gird his loins” or to be ready for anything to be a faithful messenger of God. One thing is sure though, in all that God’s messenger will experience, the Lord will be there on his side.
The most often-quoted second reading is considered a hymn to love. It was originally addressed by St. Paul to the people of Corinth who were experiencing some divisions and conflicts in the exercise of different gifts from God. St. Paul reminded the Corinthians that the motivating factor behind every gift or charism and every community should be love.
Applying this to the over-all theme of prophecy – the gift of prophecy is nothing when it is not motivated by and done out of love. We proclaim God’s Word because we love the Lord and His Word. We love God’s people and want the best for them according to God’s design and vision. In fact, prophecy is one of the signs of God’s love for His people. And it is this love that can make us withstand whatever may come our way, including rejection and even persecution, as we proclaim God’s Word. Jesus Himself experienced rejection and persecution. In fact, like all the other prophets, He was put to death because of His fidelity to the will and vision of His Father.
The gospel passage tells us that initially the people were actually amazed at the gracious words that came from the mouth of Jesus. The people were okay and happy as long as Jesus was telling them what they wanted to hear.
But then, Jesus challenged them and reminded them of their lack of faith in contrast to the foreign widow of Zarephath and the Syrian Naaman. These two personalities manifested greater faith than the Jewish people and, as a result, became recipients of the ministries of the prophets Elijah and Elisha. The moment Jesus said this, the people got angry at Jesus. They drove Him out of the town and wanted to hurl Him down the hill.
Such is the nature of the prophetic Word of God. It consoles those who are afflicted and disturbs those who are complacent and need to be disturbed. The Word of God is paradoxical. It can affirm and it can and must also disturb. All for the love of us! Sometimes we need tough love even from, or especially from, God.
Thus, the readings today remind us that we must not only listen to what we want to hear, to what is convenient, comfortable and easy for us to hear. Sometimes what we do not want to hear might be what we actually need to hear and what is best for us.
In this regard, the Christian who exercises God’s prophetic mission is also reminded to be always faithful to God and to His Word even in the face of difficulties. A true prophet will never compromise God’s Word just for the sake of pleasing other people. A prophet must always be loving and humble but firm when it comes to God’s will and message. While there are always different ways of relaying God’s message, our primary loyalty is above all to God.
At the height of the debates on the RH Bill issue in the country, one of my students asked me: “Will the Church change her stance on the RH bill and divorce when it becomes clear that these are what the majority want?” I replied, “No. This is not a popularity game. While the Church needs to and must listen to the voice of the people, she must primarily listen to the voice of God. The voice of God is discerned not only in the clamor of the people but also in the Scriptures, in the long-standing and time-tested tradition of the Church and in the discerning and teaching responsibility of the Church.”
The Bishops of our country met on January 26-28 for their 106th Catholic Bishops’ Conference. At the end of the said conference, they issued a pastoral statement using the words of St. Paul to Timothy as its title: “Proclaim the message, in Season and Out of Season.”
The Bishops reminded us, among others, that “what is popular is not necessarily what is right. What is legal is not necessarily moral.”
The Bishops also quoted the following words of St. Paul to Timonthy, and may we end with these words:
“Proclaim the message: be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching. For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths. As for you, always be sober, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully” (2Tim 4:2-5).