4th Sunday Year C - Homily 3

 Homily 3 - 2019

Judging from his statement, “No prophet is ever accepted in his own country”, Jesus obviously saw himself as a prophet. He may have been more than a prophet, but at least he was one. He never referred to himself as a priest; and only reluctantly as a king, though he went on cryptically to add, “not of this world”. Fascinating that, over the centuries, the Church has honoured Jesus as priest and king, but rarely, if ever, as prophet!

Priests and kings are establishment figures, pillars of the institution, which in turn see themselves as champions of tradition, law and order – and prepared to exercise coercive power. In Israel, priests and kings were officially and ritually anointed for their roles by fellow members of the establishment. Prophets, on the other hand, were metaphorically anointed by God. As we heard last Sunday, Jesus said of himself, quoting the much loved prophet Isaiah, “The spirit of the Lord … has anointed me. He has sent me to bring good news to the poor.”

Prophets, at least those anointed by the Lord, were critics of the establishment. They were concerned mainly with the present, constantly calling people, especially kings and priests, back to conversion. As we heard in today’s First Reading, Jeremiah understood that God had appointed him, and given him the task “to confront all in this land; the kings of Judah, its princes, its priests and the country people [or, as other translations prefer, ‘the people of the land’].”

Like Jeremiah and Isaiah, Jesus clearly saw his role, as we heard last week, “to bring good news to the poor ... to proclaim the Lord’s year of favour”. Good news for the poor was bad news for the powerful and for the wealthy whose interests were to keep the poor poor. “To proclaim new sight to the blind” meant conscientising people to see through to what is really going on in society, to be in touch with reality, alert to what is truly significant, to focus on the basics, on those things Paul was writing about in today’s Second Reading, mercy and love, rather than rules and sanctions, the practicalities of loving rather than vaguely avoiding sin.

What the Church needs most today perhaps is more prophets than more priests and the power that the institution used to have. Why are people deserting? I think that it is not just the sexual abuse revelations. That has provided the occasion – but the dropping numbers had begun before that. The cause may be more that people find that Church is boring or irrelevant; and it is boring and irrelevant, I think, because we have failed to prioritise love and particularly God’s unashamed bias towards the downtrodden and poor. Three cheers at least for St Vinnies, though the advocacy work of the society is not well known. There will always be pushback from the powerful, the well-off and the comfortable. As God said to Jeremiah, “Stand up and tell them all I command you … They will fight against you but shall not overcome you”.

Over the years, we as Church have also concentrated so much on the details of what we believe. Learning the Catechism was the big deal. But nothing like the catechism figured in what Jesus proclaimed. He focused on the non-negotiability of loving and how to do it. Paul got the message. As we heard today, “If I speak without love, I am simply a gong booming or a cymbal clashing.” Is it high time that we learnt, as disciples of the merciful, non-violent Jesus, the concrete skills, for example, of restorative justice, reconciliation and  other non-violent action for justice? Is it time to introduce into our school curricula, and make time for, such subjects as peace studies?

Many of you pray for an increase in priests. How many of us pray that God will raise up prophets from among us, especially in these times of bewildering cultural, religious and social change?