Do you shoot the messenger?

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, 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.  Blessed Teresa of Calcutta 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 three hundred 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.

Editors Note: Reflection on the Mass readings for the Fourth Sunday 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 upcoming Sunday Readings usually appears on Saturday.

Print this entry

1 Comment

  1. Ok, let’s face it -we fret.
    In the last seven years sometimes I have worried so much over doing something that I (correctly) perceived Jesus was asking me to do that it seemed like if I followed Him I would be going against my God-given conscience. LOL -what a mess is that?!
    But I am happy to report that what Scripture teaches is true: (1) He always answers our prayers, and (2) His timing is exquisite. He gives one answer at a time, and His answer is either yes or no or wait -He does not say, “maybe” (though, in our error or in our fear, we might say “maybe” to following Him). “Maybe” is not an option for Him because there is no duplicity in Him. Our ways and situations do not befuddle Him, there is no gray area –every context is black or white to Him who, on day number one, created light as He called it into existence by name and then separated it from the darkness.
    He also NEVER leaves us nor forsakes us, individually or collectively. In any given trial of faith (actually, at any given moment of time), He is either (1) walking through it with us (whether or not we perceive His presence, and as a means of strengthening our faith), or (2) removing the trial from us (such as through a miraculous healing or a change in circumstance), or (3) removing us from the trial by taking us Home (whether it be by natural death or martyrdom. Let’s face it, the mortality rate for humans is hovering at 100% -we have to get out of our skin somehow!). That’s it, those are 100% of the three options He works within in our lives at any given moment of time. He is always with us, each and all.
    Any outrageous courage in the face of ‘danger’ does not lie in our human reason or human bravado, but in His power indwelled in us as His Spirit.
    When we stop being control freaks and die to ourselves, He can then work through us, for we are “in the Spirit”.
    He’s the Husband, so we have to let Him lead the dance. When we relax and let Him lead we want the dance to never end -it is an amazing experience- even when (especially when) that dance leads us Home. Don’t deny yourselves that once in your (Earthling) lifetime opportunity, for on the day of judgment you will surely regret missing the dance. I’m not saying that you will lose eternal life, I’m just saying that you’ll be sorry that in your short time on earth you did not max out on your faith.
    Every day, I begin my life of prayer by re-committing my life and self to Him, “I am yours, and you are mine. I love you. I give you my head, my brain, my hair, my eyes, my vision, my mouth, my words…” I go down through my entire body and list every body part I can think of including the more abstract things, “My memory, my conscience, my ideas, my desires…” This prayer ritual for me is how I prime my spirit, like priming a pump. It connects my spirit and body and mind and gets them running together. But our Lord has a good sense of humor. At the end, when I have said every body part I can think of, I’ll say something like, “Ok, I think that’s all of me.” Then I wait a moment and then another part will come to mind, like “The cilia in your intestines”, and I’ll laugh and add that, too. It’s another reminder to me that we are always more than the sum of our parts –He is in us and with us and loves us beyond reason.
    We have to give the Spirit some wiggle room to effect positive changes in His new creation. This Earth is not our world, we are merely visitors here for a short while, so there’s no point in getting so attached to it, or any part of it, that we cannot imagine living without it. Because eternity is a long time, and we will not be spending it here. Our life on Earth is spiritual boot camp for us, it’s where He matures our faith in Him. And in that maturity we learn to dance with Him, and through that joyful dance we, by our nature in Him, defend our faith. We cannot be what we are not –and we are His beloved Bride, always and forever.
    Come on -Let’s dance!!

Post a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *