14th Sunday - homily
As we celebrate our nation’s independence and reflect on today’s readings, I have a question for you: who is the greatest prophet in the history of the United States? I know this will probably lead to many debates among you this weekend, but please, just be civil..! We have had many prophetic figures in our nation’s history – religious leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr., presidents like George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, and saints like St. Elizabeth Ann Seton who was the first native-born American to be canonized a saint. In a moment, I would like to give a quote from each one of these people to reveal their prophetic nature.
The readings today focus on prophets and how they are treated by their own people. We are all called to be prophets. What is a prophet? One way to describe a prophet is that a prophet speaks the truth. He doesn’t just speak his own truth or opinion – subjective truth – but objective truth. He speaks the truth…he tells it like it is. He says what’s real, and not just what’s real to him. Can someone who speaks only what’s subjectively true be considered a prophet? Well, let’s look at some examples. If someone said constantly that the Redskins were very well run by Daniel Snyder, then, as a lifelong Redskins fan, I would say that person is not a prophet! Or, if someone always taught that 2+2 =3 or 5 or whatever you want it to be, then that person would not be a prophet.
A prophet constantly speaks the truth. A prophet teaches that 2+2=4, that the baby in the womb is a person with inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, that marriage is between a man and a woman, that the Eucharist is really the Body and Blood of Christ, and so forth. He teaches the truth – objective truth – even if it’s hard or unpopular to do so. And, from the beginning, the prophets have been “rebelled against”, as the first reading says. People don’t always want to hear the truth.
Jesus was rebelled against as a prophet. It’s so sad that in his own town, people rejected him and he “was not able to perform any mighty deed there” (well, “apart from curing the sick”!). Our Lord makes it clear that we are a prophet in every town or family but our own. People often don’t want to hear the truth from us, especially those in our families! The reason is that they know us – as Jesus’ townspeople knew him – as the little guys or girls growing up. They see us as their siblings or children and not as prophets, just like they didn’t see Jesus as a prophet.
Our Lord was rebelled against in specific ways and in general ways as a prophet. Specifically, he was rejected when he taught about the Eucharist in John 6. Today’s Gospel reminds me so much of that scene: people are basically saying there, ‘aren’t you the son of a carpenter, and you want to give us your flesh to eat?’ Even though they had been following him every day and thinking he was the one to follow, they rejected him when he taught the truth about the Eucharist. They rebelled against him…they left him. They did this is general when they put him on a cross. Every time we look at a Crucifix, we see that Jesus was rejected in general as a prophet. Speaking the truth is what got him killed.
Finally, the freedom that we celebrate is based in truth. Our founders even called them “self-evident truths”. We have had many prophets speak the truth to us in our history. Here are the quotes from some of them that give us a taste of their prophetic natures. Martin Luther King: “He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetuate it”. Abraham Lincoln: “Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves”. George Washington: “Happiness and moral duty are inseparably connected”. St. Elizabeth Ann Seton: (to the children that she taught in her schools) “Love God, children, and you can forget Hell”. Let us pray for our current leaders, that they might be prophets – that they might be people who speak the truth..not just subjective truth, but objective truth. Real freedom is based in truth. Where there’s freedom, there’s Christ. Where there’s Christ, there’s love.