It doesn’t take a lot of intellectual awareness to observe that we are living in troubling times. Today I am not talking about the divisions in our beloved Church in South Carolina, although I believe that struggle participates and is influenced by our societal realities. I am noting the extremism and partisanship that tends to dehumanize anyone who is “other” than we, anyone who thinks differently, who dares to speak hard truths, or perhaps has grown and been formed in a differing cultural context. Perhaps like me, you are weary of it all.
Deuteronomy begins in today’s lesson to say that, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people.” This refers to Moses and his bold yet costly truth-telling to hold God’s people to the way of God. He did so in the midst of the great temptation, out of expediency, to do otherwise and thereby save his own skin. The role of prophet might prove to be too difficult, too costly. He might even have to change his worldview and way of life, yet Moses remained faithful and dared to tell the truth to the power of pharaoh as he worked to set God’s people free. Moses did so no matter how inconvenient or the personal cost to him. That is what one committed to the truth does.
Being a prophet is hard work. It can be dangerous work. It cost Moses being able to enter the promised land. He only got to stand and gaze at a distance across the valley. Being a truth teller cost Jesus his life as he stood up to the empire of abuse of power and the subjugation of peoples. It has cost the life of thousands of others over the centuries.
Being a prophet is also hard work because there is a psychological propensity in human beings, including you and me, only to hear and accept what we already believe. When something comes along that challenges something we deeply already hold, we tend to dismiss it, at least at first. It take repeated times of hearing a new word, facts that contradict what we think we already know, for us to begin to consider another possibility.
For us as Christians, our measure is always Jesus and what he taught, how he lived, how he showed us the fullness of God in his very being. We hear today in the Gospel that the people were astounded by the authority of his teaching. The authority Jesus exercised was found in his healing as he pointed to the full reign of God for God’s people. He exercised authority over anything and everything that in any way diminished God’s people.
Look with me for a moment at our baptismal covenant as presented in the Book of Common Prayer. It is here we discover how we are called, as disciples, also to be prophets for the sake of God’s truth found in the way of Jesus. Right there, in our baptismal promises (p. 302), we say in the three renunciations that we will do everything in our power not to participate in cosmic, systemic or personal evil. Indeed, we promise then to follow the way of Jesus to proclaim that he is Lord, as distinct from the lordship of Caesar as manifested in governments, political leaders, empire, domination, power, wealth, or even success at all cost. All of these are idols that are incredibly seductive, yet are being called out in today’s readings as contrary to the way of God.
We must always be looking to the way of Jesus. As Julian of Norwich so clearly said, “What was his way? His way was love.” I would go far as to say that any law that is not first grounded n love, grace, and the dignity of all human beings, is a law that needs to challenged and changed. “Knowledge puffs up. Love builds up,” St. Paul says to us today.
Some of you are aware that in a couple of weeks I will be returning to El Salvador. I will be meeting as a member of the Board of Trustees of a human rights organization called Cristosal (cristosal.org). The people of El Salvador continue to struggle for the basic norms of justice that you and I might take for granted. When there, I often witness the people of that country who in costly ways, and sometimes at great risk, seek to change the structures and confront the violence that keeps God’s people oppressed, without the basic rights that all human beings should be able to enjoy just by virtue of being human – made in God’s image.
I am a part of that organization because it is about a way of loving. It is an organization of people who are prophets as they tell the truth in challenging ways. They often make the powerful uncomfortable, but all to the good. Such a perspective might give us a sense of what Jesus’ hearers may have been thinking and feeling when they heard his teaching. He was always laying before them the hard word that God ‘s way always directs us to embrace the outsider, those on the edge and beyond our comfort zones.
What we see in Jesus and his ministry in Capernaum and beyond, now embodied in his Church made up of you and me, is a bringing forth of the reign of God right into the midst of the contested arena of human life. Love is hard work. It is not passive. It is supposed to cost us something. It cost Jesus his life. People who seek to live and love this way may seem odd, even deluded. It is often alien to popular opinion and unfortunately, with rare exception, doesn’t get votes. Yet in Jesus’ worldview it is the way of hope, reconciliation and freedom. It is definitive for all who dare to follow in the Way of Jesus.