Sunday, 31 January 2010

The unwelcome prophet

Luke 4:21-30
Jesus began to speak in the synagogue: ‘This text is being fulfilled today even as you listen.’ And he won the approval of all, and they were astonished by the gracious words that came from his lips They said, ‘This is Joseph’s son, surely?’
But he replied, ‘No doubt you will quote me the saying, “Physician, heal yourself” and tell me, “We have heard all that happened in Capernaum, do the same here in your own countryside.”’ And he went on, ‘I tell you solemnly, no prophet is ever accepted in his own country.
‘There were many widows in Israel, I can assure you, in Elijah’s day, when heaven remained shut for three years and six months and a great famine raged throughout the land, but Elijah was not sent to any one of these: he was sent to a widow at Zarephath, a Sidonian town. And in the prophet Elisha’s time there were many lepers in Israel, but none of these was cured, except the Syrian, Naaman.’
When they heard this everyone in the synagogue was enraged. They sprang to their feet and hustled him out of the town; and they took him up to the brow of the hill their town was built on, intending to throw him down the cliff, but he slipped through the crowd and walked away.

No prophet is ever accepted in his own country

It always surprises me how popular fortune tellers and psychics are these days. How people will pay quite a bit, and quite regularly, to be told that this or that will happen to them and those they love. Generally these bits of foretelling hold good news; long life, finding a loved one, a birth. So, maybe not so much a puzzle – the world we live in can seem somewhat bleak and the promise of a little light here and there may be worth paying for. Although the suggestion that this means that our lives are foretold, our future accounted for does give me some concern – I like to imagine that I have a choice in how my life is going; especially when it means a choice that move me towards God.

Prophecy is often confused with fortune telling. We think of prophets passing on God’s plan for us as if we have no say in the matter – the delight, of course, of apocalyptic film makers. But that’s not true – a prophet’s vision into the future is borne out of the vision of the world that they live in and the people they live with.

Unfortunately, they are decidedly less popular than fortune tellers.

Whilst there may be some prophets who are able to see only the positive and praise their people for the good that they do – these are not in the majority – and, you wonder, if they are prophets at all. After all, there is nothing any of us like more than praise.

In our own land, we stand on our side of the fence; the grass is greener side of the fence. We become the good example - blind to wrong turnings we are taking – because most of us are taking them. We agree, between ourselves, to look the other way; to overlook; to look out and protect our reputation. Our relationship with God fits where it touches because we are all looking in the same clouded mirror, patting ourselves on the back, and thinking things are not so bad.

Who is there better to stand up; to wipe the glass clean; to speak out; than someone living in the middle of it all; someone who has had the scales taken from their eyes so that they can become God’s eyes and speaks God’s words? And who is least likely to listen to them?

It is one of the many paradoxical actions of God that He sends the wrong person to do a task. ‘Wrong’ in our eyes; of course. Someone so off base that they seem a joke; a hoax; a misunderstanding.

So whoever they are, we don’t want to listen. We are more likely to shoot the messenger than believe the message. We are not so willing to be brought to task by someone we watched grow up; someone we grew up with; someone we consider unworthy, unqualified, unremarkable? We don’t hear ‘God in them’.

We look for guidance from above; and that above isn’t just God (it often isn’t even God) – it’s above us in stature, in status, in the establishment. They are the people we want to listen to; the people we want to tell us what to do. They are also ‘our’ people; on our side, loyal and committed to the status quo.

We don’t want to take instruction from the people living next door; the man
in the street; the woman in the pew. Those that see another way; that know the emperor’s new clothes for the spin doctoring they are.

This is where the prophet comes from – ‘at their own risk’ and utterly powerless, because they have given God their ‘Yes’. There is very little job satisfaction in being a prophet.

When the prophet talks to their own people it is too close. The prophet won’t be fooled – they have been there. God has shown them the error of their ways – has taught them about tough love- has impressed on them the need to speak out. Given them His Son as an example. And, like him, they are unable to force their belief, their message onto our lifestyle – it is always down to choice.

But when they speak –
It is the magnifying mirror held up to the truth when we’ve been happy with the lies;
The knowing of hidden secrets and furtive lives.
It is uncovering the layers of pretence and glamour to show the cracks and pock marks.
It’s the BIG question when we don’t want to admit to knowing the answer;
The direct approach when we play the avoidance technique on a grand scale.

The prophet in our midst only ever wants one thing – what God wants –
and they both know us too well to take ‘No’ or even ‘Yes, but…’
for an answer. And that doesn’t make it easy – for them or for us.


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