In our Gospel text from Mark today is a unique moment when Jesus claims the title of prophet saying, “prophets are not without honor, except in their own town” as he describes the rejection from family and friends he faces in Nazareth. By claiming this title of prophet, Jesus associates himself with the many prophets of his people’s history.
Prophets played an incredibly important role in the life of ancient Israel. They were regarded as inspired teachers or proclaimers of the will of God.
Early on, prophets anointed kings by pouring oil on their heads giving these rulers authority in the religious tradition of their time. But more importantly, prophets provided counsel and when necessary challenged leaders who otherwise held absolute power.
Throughout history, prophets like Elijah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel and Ezekial, served sometimes as personal advisors to kings, but more often as public opponents to corrupt leadership and straying nations.
It is no mistake that alongside the Gospel text where Jesus identifies himself as prophet that we hear about one of scripture’s boldest prophets, Ezekiel, today. In our first reading this week we get a glimpse into Ezekiel’s call from God who tells him, “I am sending you to the people of Israel, to a nation of rebels who have rebelled against me; they and their ancestors have transgressed against me to this very day.”
So what was up with the people of Israel during Ezekiel’s time? What exactly were they doing that was so wrong in the eyes of God? Well, they were worshiping idols, and treating one another unjustly.
Worshiping idols may sound like a problem specific to ancient Israel, like something hard to relate to in our time. But idols are not always golden calves, idols can be things like pride, like contempt.
If we become so set in our ways that we refuse to change and grow, we fall victim to the idol of arrogance.
If we choose not to accept those who are different from us, we are embracing the idol of exclusion.
If we speak without grace about others behind their back, we are prey to the idol of spite.
One idol that I can easily fall into is the idol of self-sufficiency. On days that I become convinced I can do and know everything myself, I can forget that any true good works or ideas must be rooted in God’s power and understanding, not my own. And that is where prophets come in.
Now, just as much as the times when Jesus and Ezekiel lived, is the time for prophetic speech. I know that I need reminders when I am not living as I should be. And we could certainly all use more messages calling for justice and hope in our world.
So who is it that you see opposing the powerful so that all can thrive in our world? Who are the inspired teachers of our time? The prophets of our day?
Prophets I came across this week were a group of the young descendants of Frederick Douglass who collectively recited and reflected on portions of his speech called, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July.”
Douglass gave this speech to a gathered crowd of abolitionists in 1852. The speech highlighted the hypocrisy of a nation celebrating freedom when 1 in 8 of it’s residents was still enslaved. While much has changed and much progress has been made in these 169 years, the consequences of our nation’s transgressions are still felt by many today.
In the video of these 11-20 year-old young people repeating words written by their great, great, great grandfather, it is heartbreaking to hear them share how relevant many of these words are to their experience of life in America today. These wise young prophets remind us we are still seeking the beautiful aspirations of the songs this community sings to commemorate the 4th.
Like Jesus, like Ezekial, Frederick Douglass was holding hope for a different future which required sharing an unpopular message in the context where he lived.
Like many prophets before him, Douglass was filled with apprehension as he sought to share what was on his mind and in his heart. He started his speech saying, “He who could address this audience without a quailing sensation, has stronger nerves than I have. I do not remember ever to have appeared as a speaker before any assembly more shrinkingly, nor with greater distrust of my ability, than I do this day.”
Like the rejection Jesus faced in his hometown, Douglass faced potential harm and rejection as well. But in true prophetic form, he spoke anyway. He gave voice to a community who had been silenced. To the many for whom freedom was not yet realized.
Jesus does much of the same throughout his ministry, healing and engaging with those most marginalized and ignored in the time when he was among us. He does not let the rejection or apathy of those who knew him as a boy stop him from continuing forward.
Rejection can’t stop the kingdom of God from breaking into the world.
Rather than losing hope when his hometown visit doesn’t go quite as he envisioned, Jesus takes a moment to be amazed at the unbelief around him, but soon moves to action. To the sending of disciples throughout the region.
When I read this text it can be tempting to associate myself with the disciples, with those who are sent. After all, that is who we are called to be as Christians, right?
But what if we really are more like those who will not hear. Like those who are stuck in unbelief when we meet prophets of our day.
God has sent prophets to us. Changemakers. Those who challenge us to see the world a new way. Those who hold on to hope for a brighter, more equitable future.
Are we those who hear or who refuse to hear?
The good news is, either way, God’s kingdom of justice will continue to break into the world. May we be ready to embrace it.
Let us pray...God of prophetic wisdom,
Be present with us in this moment as we reflect on what it means to truly listen to the prophets around us. Throughout celebrations this holiday weekend, bless us as we honor the land we so love and have mercy on us as a nation with many sins to atone for.
Help us to be bearers of your love in our communities, especially for those who have not been heard or loved as they should in our nation’s history.
Help us to honor those who have served or lost their lives on behalf of this nation.
Help us to hold hope for a future of America that is truly beautiful for all.