14th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B
Text: Ezekiel 2:3-5, 2 Corinthians 12:7-10, Mark 6:1-6.
What is a prophet?
We often think of a prophet—or a saint—as someone unattainably good, even someone perfect. It’s a compelling story: we all want a hero, someone we can look up to in everything and trust not to disappoint us. As children, our parents are usually the first holders of that place, and their imperfections and errors are the most traumatic to us because they are the first we encounter. The challenge to accept and love someone with all those imperfections and errors—even when they hurt us by them—is perhaps our greatest task in life.
It seems to me that a prophet is one through whom God is known to others; a saint is the same, one whose life expresses heroic virtue as inspired and fortified by the Holy Spirit.1 There are many ways to accomplish this; “a variety of gifts but always the same Spirit.”2 The Biblical authors were certainly prophets, and Jesus was the most complete expression of God in humanity.
So perhaps the question is, who is a prophet? Am I a prophet? Is what I am saying here and now in some way guided by the Holy Spirit, conveying some bit of God’s vast message? I find it hard to even ask the question out loud. I know too well my own sins and weaknesses, and find that I don’t measure up to the image we have of these holy men and women represented in the statues and stained glass that surrounds us here. We have, in the most literal possible sense, put these people up on pedestals.
I’ve climbed up onto a pedestal here myself, haven’t I? For these few minutes, here I am, speaking from the Altar of the Word, but I know that I’m still the same person as the one who will return to his pew and stand in line for Communion with everyone else, then drive back home to Kanata, spend time with family, go to work, and live a life that is in most ways not particularly distinguished. I will struggle with my own temptations, resisting them imperfectly at best; I have a hard time seeing the “heroic virtue” of sainthood in my life.
And yet—if I refuse to be open to the possibility that it really is the same Spirit that set Ezekiel on his feet3 that set me on mine, I am just like the townsfolk of Nazareth. Nobody is more familiar to us than ourselves; it’s easy and comfortable to think that our role is small, and great works aren’t to be found there. If we believe that enough, the Holy Spirit in us will be like Jesus, unable to do any deed of power there.4 Likewise, if we pigeonhole each other into rigidly defined roles, we deny each other’s human ability to grow and let new gifts flourish.
Sometimes the hierarchical structure of the church leads us to forget the awesome gifts we all share together: the gifts of Baptism and the Holy Spirit aren’t exclusive to anyone. All of us share in Jesus’ priesthood, prophecy, and kingship;5 the leaders of the church guide and help us, but they are not proxies to whom we delegate our share of God’s Kingdom. Father Andy expresses God in a certain way, and has dedicated himself to serving God in us; I, and each of you, nevertheless each contribute something particular and special of God to this congregation.
Like us, the saints were not perfect in their lives; nobody but Jesus accomplished that. The stained glass is not perfectly clear, but the sunlight shines through even so. If we hide from God because of our sins, we have succumbed to despair, and through Jesus’ life, God promises us that we need never lose hope and trust in God’s promises. God’s gifts to us aren’t conditional on being sinless: on the contrary, our sins are a large part of why God gives us these gifts, because we have such need of them. The canonized saints are a tiny fraction of the host of people whose lives reflected God’s glory in whatever context, great or small, they found themselves, because most people’s lives go unrecorded and unexamined by the Congregation charged with recognizing them; God, however, sees every sparrow’s life and death.6
You and I are as qualified as anyone to bear God’s gifts. Perhaps some will scoff at us ordinary folks daring to take on this mission, or accuse us of seeking our own aggrandizement, just like the Nazarenes did to Jesus.7 Still, if we are to love each other as ourselves, we must accept ourselves with all our shortcomings, and humbly and gratefully accept the charisms God has chosen for us. When we have the courage to put those talents to use rather than burying them,8 we become living signs and vehicles of God’s unconditional and fruitful love.
1: Cf. the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1994, paragraphs 688, 828.
2: 1 Corinthians 12:4
3: Ezekiel 2:3
4: Mark 6:5
5: Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1994, paragraphs 897-900.
6: Matthew 10:29
7: Mark 6:2-3
8: Cf. the Parable of the Talents, Matthew 25:14-30
As for its reception, so far so good: no overripe tomatoes, croziers, or lightning bolts have been aimed my way yet!