Prophets and the Progression of Mark
14th Sunday Ordinary time, 7-5-15, Ez 2: 2-5, Ps 123, 2 Cor 12: 7-10, Mark 6: 1-6
Prophets and the Progression of Mark
I hear two messages in today’s readings. The first message is about prophets and the demands of being a prophet. Last December, Pope Francis offered a great working definition of a prophet: “A prophet is someone who listens to the words of God, who reads the spirit of the times, and who knows how to move forward toward the future.” He went on add a real zinger, “All those who are baptized are prophets…let us not tire of moving forward.” That’s us! We’d better look at this more closely.
First, a prophet must listen to God. Next a prophet reads the spirit of the times, and finally a prophet moves toward the future. Just three easy steps! Ok! So, how do we listen to God? This isn’t news to us: we listen to God in the scriptures; we listen when we pray and we meditate; we listen when we study the teachings of faithful Christians; we listen when trusted friends and advisors talk with us. Naturally, this takes dedication. Listening to God is not just an occasional thought, but daily scheduled time of focused attention.
The spirit of the times is found by stepping back from that one-sided, shallow political rhetoric & by disengaging from the sound bites used by those seeking to sell products or ideas. Reading the spirit of the times requires a sense of history, discernment, and attending to the undercurrents of our society. We pay attention to the bold events and the subtle ones, too.
Moving forward toward the future takes willingness to change and re-create our life-styles, taking on new information, willingness to admit errors. It takes ending the pretense that we’re in control. We must let go of pre-conceived limits and barriers to make room for thoughts and ideas beyond our experience.
Hmm, This is sounding very idealistic, isn’t it? It sounds like the diet I never go on or the fitness program I never get beyond day 2 with. Is it possible that I may be failing to listen, not reading the times, and resisting moving forward? Even worse than that, am I like the Israelites of Ezekiel’s day who God described as “rebellious, hard of face and obstinate of heart.” Later in that passage from Ezekiel, God told the prophet he would find the people to be like scorpions, meaning Ezekiel would face bitter and painful opposition. If you want some other, more contemporary names, think about how Dietrick Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther King and Archbishop Oscar Romero were treated as prophets.
Of course, the people of Jesus’ time knew about prophets. The saying, “ A prophet is not without honor except … in his own house” was common in both Jewish and Greek literature even then. Could we write this off this bad trip back to Nazareth in our Gospel to a little jealousy? Why should our neighbor be given a gift of healing or wisdom or teaching? Who does he think he is? But, they are astonished at his teaching. His wisdom and power for mighty deeds are quickly acknowledged. Then we find the real problem. If Jesus is simply a carpenter, just a guy from the neighborhood, and his divine authority is denied, where, then, does the teaching and wisdom and power come from?
If the people of Nazareth do not believe this supernatural power comes from God, then is it from evil? Are “offended” because they assume he brought something deceptive or dark to them? Are they that blind? Jesus was amazed at their lack of belief. They were just like Ezekiel’s people, stubborn, refusing the evidence standing in front of them of the power and presence of God. That is why Jesus could not perform any mighty deeds there. The people of Nazareth rejected the blessings of God because they would not listen, they refused to read the spirit of the times, and they would not move a single inch into the future, as if their feet were in cement. It is an appalling and painfully sad story of eternal love distorted and distained. It is a warning to those who will not listen or read or move. It is in stark contrast to Jesus telling the woman in last week’s reading, “Daughter, your faith has saved you. Go in peace, and be cured of your affliction.” She had listened, read, and moved into the future.
The second message in today’s readings is the continuing message of the Gospel of Mark. Sometimes Mark seems like just a collection of parables, healings, teachings, miracles of Jesus, all one after the other. But that is not the case.
Earlier in Chapter 3 of Mark (vs 6), the Pharisees have discussed killing Jesus for healing a man in the Synagogue on the Sabbath. They closed their minds to God, and told themselves that they, not God, were in control. In vs 21 of the same chapter, his relatives are quoted as saying, “He is out of his mind,” speaking of Jesus as if he were devil-possessed. In the very next verse, the scribes who had come from Jerusalem say, “By the prince of demons he drives out demons.” That is shockingly hard thing to say. The scribes had blasphemed against the Holy Sprit, the spirit of God working in Jesus. Jesus responds, “Whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an everlasting sin.”
This is no flippant theological discussion, but rather a shadowing of what is to come. Mark is building for that day in Jerusalem when the leaders and people join together and call out, “Crucify Him!” Mark not only asks “Who do you say that Jesus is?” but he also asks if we can stand in faith as prophets when others will not.
When we proclaim ourselves as Christians, we proclaim ourselves as prophets of Almighty God. We must be busy listening to God, reading the spirit of the times, and moving forward into the future.