The call of a prophet comes purely from God’s free initiative. For his own purposes and glory, God calls and commissions. This is what he tells the prophet Jeremiah in today’s first reading: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you, a prophet to the nations I appointed you.” The Lord in his infinite wisdom equips the one he calls, and gives him or her the grace necessary to carry out the prophetic mission.
Remarkably, the Lord does not assure the prophet that his mission is going to be smooth sailing. He does not remove the challenges that can come with doing the will of God. Therefore, the life and witness of a prophet can be very costly and challenging, given that our fallen and disordered human nature balks at submitting to God’s will and the call to holiness. The prophet will be met with resistance and hostility. Though the difficulties a prophet faces will be many, God assures him a share in his own victory. As he calls Jeremiah, he also tells him, “They will fight against you but will not prevail over you, for I am with you to deliver you.”
The skepticism and aggression toward his prophet that the Lord foretold to Jeremiah suddenly become a reality in the life of Jesus, the prophet par excellence. In today’s Gospel we see Jesus in the synagogue in Nazareth, “his own native place,” where, as he says, “no prophet is accepted.” And indeed, he is not accepted there. The people doubt that he can be the promised Messiah, partly because he is merely the son of Joseph, and partly because he invokes the examples of Elijah and Elisha. Through these two great prophets of old, the Lord extended his favor to foreigners, represented by the widow of Zarephath and Naaman the leper. Jesus is implying that he too is a prophet, and that his mission is to all nations. He is fulfilling the Scripture passage he has just read: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor” (Lk 4:18).
In the mind of Jesus’ listeners, the promise of God’s favor is the privilege of Israel alone as God’s chosen people. When Jesus challenges their religious self-importance – as prophets always do – the people of Nazareth respond with fury and try to “hurl him down headlong.” But he easily escapes the attempt on his life, passing right through the hostile crowd and walking away. We see here the fulfilment of the prophecy given to Jeremiah: “They will fight against you but not prevail over you, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.”
Jesus, the exemplar of all the prophets, is “a sign that will be contradicted,” as announced by Simeon (Lk 2:34). He has hardly started his ministry and he is already facing opposition, like the prophets who preceded him. This hostile opposition will eventually lead to his saving death, to which he will freely submit at the proper time. Then the prophetic words, “for I am with you to deliver you,” will be ultimately fulfilled in Jesus through his glorious Resurrection. The enemies of Jesus will not prevail over him, just as they did not prevail over any other prophets.
We Christians who share through our Baptism in the prophetic life of Jesus will also be signs that will be contradicted when we are faithful. The prophecy that was fulfilled in Jesus will also be fulfilled in us. If we share in the death of Christ through our prophetic witness as people of truth, though we may be abused, opposed, insulted, we will also share in Christ’s Resurrection.
Concretely, our call to prophetic life is essentially a call to love, which is the greatest spiritual gift, as St. Paul tells us in today’s second reading. The love that we are to show is the Christ-like love that moved him to lay down his life for us. It is the costly love of a prophet who has been called to bear witness to God who is Truth. For this reason, St. Paul outlines the qualities of the love we are to practice: love that is patient, love that does not rejoice over wrong-doing but rejoices with the truth, etc. It is a challenge for us to emulate this quality of love – it can be a crucifying choice – but as St. Paul says: “If we have died with him, we shall also live with him; if we persevere, we shall also reign with him” (2 Tm 2:11-12).
How can I become more open to receive the graces of God? When am I skeptical of the promises of Christ? What is my response to the opposition of others?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 15, no. 2. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.