Why Do We Stone Prophets?

Photography © by Andy Coan

Photography © by Andy Coan

“In polite conversation, never bring up politics or religion.” That’s the advice I was given as a child. And it’s good advice, too, if your aim is to be well-liked. Politics and religion are risky because they involve deeply held convictions, and if you happen to tread on the convictions of others, you get the same reaction that a dentist gets when his probe hits a nerve.

But politeness at any cost is not God’s style. The reason for this is that God is love, and love is more concerned about the welfare of others than with one’s own image. So if someone is on a seemingly pleasant canoe ride down a lazy river, love cares enough to warn the passengers that Niagara Falls is up ahead. “But everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion.” Opinions don’t change the fact that going over the falls in a canoe will kill you.

Religious and moral choices are like this. They set one on a course that leads either to a safe harbor or over the falls. Sex outside of marriage, intoxication with drugs and alcohol, honoring Jesus but rejecting the authority of His Church, all these choices have very unpleasant, even deadly, consequences.

So God sends prophets (the Greek word means “spokesmen”) whose role includes warning people that they are headed over the falls. You’d think people would be grateful for the heads up. But often people respond to bad news by killing the messenger.

Why is this? Because the idea that we are basically “good people” whom God ought to appreciate, and that our beliefs and lifestyle are at least as good as all others – these are comforting illusions. When a prophet calls all this into question, we find it threatening and very uncomfortable. If the prophet is right, we have to change, and change always means pain, and we don’t like pain.

Jeremiah and Jesus both are dealing with people who think that they are “good people.” After all, they are God’s chosen people. They offer sacrifices. God is on their side. So they respond to Jeremiah’s warnings by eliminating the source of pain. They throw him into a muddy cistern and he narrowly escapes with his life. In Luke 4, Jesus the inhabitants of Nazareth want to throw Jesus over the hill. He eludes them this time, but ultimately gives his life for those who cry out “Crucify him!”

So if this is how people are going to respond, why bother? Why stick your neck out? Because people have a right to the truth, whether they heed the truth or not. The prophet’s responsibility is to speak God’s word as clearly and convincingly as possible. What people do with that word is not under his control. Mother Teresa was fond of saying that God does not require us to have success; he requires us to be faithful.

At first glance, Jeremiah did not have much “success.” His listeners totally ignored him, the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem, and Israel was taken into exile. On Good Friday, it did not look like Jesus had been successful either.  But 300 years later the Romans who crucified him were worshiping him, and the lives that had been forever changed were too numerous to count.

We who have been confirmed have been given a share in Christ’s prophetic anointing. If our goal is to be everybody’s buddy, we are going to have a hard time being faithful. The word that God commands us to share is sometimes comforting, sometimes disturbing. We must get over our fear of offending people and love them enough to tell them the truth. Of course, there is always the question of the right place and time. But if no place is the right place and the right time never comes, we can be sure that we are allowing fear of other’s opinion to get in the way of love.  Love is not about being sentimental or popular. The love of God, spoken about in 1 Corinthians 13, is tough love.

Editor’s Note: Reflection on the Mass readings for the Sunday of the Fourth Week in Ordinary Time (Year C) – Jeremiah 1:4-5, 17-19; Psalms 71:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 15-17; First Corinthians 12:31–13:13 o; Luke 4:21-30. This series for reflections on the coming Sunday Readings usually appears each Wednesday.


Dr. Marcellino D’Ambrosio writes from Texas. For his resources on parenting and family life or information on his pilgrimages to Rome and the Holy Land, visit www.crossroadsinitiative.com or call 1.800.803.0118. This article originally appeared in Our Sunday Visitor and is reproduced here by permission of the author.


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About the Author

Dr. Marcellino D’Ambrosio writes from Texas. For his resources on parenting and family life or information on his pilgrimages to Rome and the Holy Land, visit www.crossroadsinitiative.com or call 1.800.803.0118.

Raised in Italian/Irish neighborhood in Providence, RI, Marcellino D’Ambrosio never thought about being anything else but Catholic. But like other Catholic teens, his faith was the last place he looked for fulfillment. Following in the footsteps of his parents, both professional performers in their single years, Marcellino set his sights on stardom, playing bass guitar in several popular rock bands by the time he was 16. At that time he encountered a group of Catholics whose Christian life was an exciting adventure, an adventure worth living for. So he laid his bass guitar aside and embarked on a road that led to a Ph.D. in historical theology from the Catholic University of America. His doctoral dissertation, written under the direction of the renowned Jesuit theologian, Avery Cardinal Dulles, focused on one of the theological lights of the Second Vatican Council, Henri Cardinal de Lubac, and his recovery of biblical interpretation of the early Church fathers.

His writing has been published in the international journal Communio, Abingdon’s Dictionary of Biblical Interpretation, the Tablet, Catholic Digest, Our Sunday Visitor, and Catholic News Service’s syndicated column "Faith Alive." His popular book, Exploring the Catholic Church and video course by the same name (known as Touching Jesus through the Church in the USA) have been used in hundreds of parishes all throughout the English speaking world. The Guide to the Passion: 100 Questions about the Passion of the Christ, of which he is co-author and co-editor, may prove to be the fastest-selling Catholic book of all time with over a million copies sold in less than three months.

Dr. D’Ambrosio, the father of five and a business owner, brings to his teaching a practical, down-to-earth perspective that makes his words easy to understand and put into practice. Audio and video recordings of his popular teaching are internationally distributed. He often appears on the international Eternal Word Television Network is regularly heard on the nationally syndicated radio show "Catholic Answers Live." Dr. D'Ambrosio has been a guest on Geraldo Rivera, At Large on FoxNews Channel, the Bill O'Reilly radio show and Radio America's news program Dateline: Washington.

In 2001 Dr. D’Ambrosio left his position at the University of Dallas to develop the work of Crossroads Productions, the apostolate of Catholic renewal and evangelization that he co-founded twenty years ago, and to more directly oversee the growth of Wellness Opportunities Group a company dedicated to helping people improve the quality of their lives physically, mentally, and financially. He, his wife Susan, and their five children, reside just outside of San Antonio, TX.

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