1995 Jan 29 – 4th Sun Ord Time (Prison Writings)
Cycle C 4th Sun Ord Time
Lk 4, 21 – 30
NO PROPHET GAINS ACCEPTANCE IN HIS NATIVE PLACE Luke 4:24
The thing I miss the most about being away from you is our weekend liturgies, especially the opportunities to preach on the weekend scripture text. This weekend’s lectionary selections are naturals for me. The Gospel text from Luke picks up where last week’s text left off, with a repeat of Verse 21 of Chapter 4. We are at the very beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. He is in Nazareth, his hometown, in his local synagogue, on the Sabbath, amongst friends and neighbors, people he has known all his life. Rumors were abounding in this little community about this favorite son of theirs. Jesus had just returned after some absence. He was previously seen in the company of and was baptized by his famous and now imprisoned cousin, John the Baptist. Some say after his baptism a miraculous occurrence took place, talk of a hovering cloud, a dove descending and a voice being heard, “You are my son, today I have fathered you.”
There is also talk of Jesus disappearing in the desert for a 40-day “walk about.” They say he came back from the desert with a leaner and meaner prophetic look, embolden with a certain spirit, like a man with a mission. Then just recently word comes of Jesus’ inspired preaching, powerful deeds of healing, and of expelling demons throughout Galilee, especially in and around Capernaum.
Now comes this Jesus, the local boy, now a man on a mission to his hometown of Nazareth. Jesus shows up at the local synagogue for a Sabbath service. He stands up to read. One of the elders passes him the scroll of the Prophet Isaiah. Jesus boldly reads the passage where the prophet talks of the coming of the anointed one of the Lord. He who will bring good news to the poor, liberty to the captives, sight to the blind, and release to all prisoners. (Currently one of my favorite of Jesus’ promises.) In short the anointed one announces a year of favor from the Lord. Everyone was spellbound by the manner and way Jesus read this text. Then Jesus did the strangest thing. He sat down and said rather matter of factly, “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” And that was it. Nothing more.
The people were upset. What? They thought, no healings? No miracles? No expelling of any demons? Who does this Jesus think he is to speak so boldly and do nothing more. You owe us more than that, they’ ponder. Whatever powers you have, we have a rightful claim to them. No one is a free agent. Everyone is beholding to somebody. “Is not this Joseph’s son?” they asked.
Jesus knows what is behind their rumbling. They see a good thing in his powers to heal and to expel demons. He will not let his prophetic spirit be controlled by them or anyone else. God’s prophetic spirit is not given to be held captive or controlled, not by family or clan, not by race or nation, not by priest or rabbi, nor by Church or Temple. A true prophetic spirit speaks and acts on God’s behalf, from God’s point of view. A prophet, any prophet worth his or her salt must be totally free to speak and act for God and no one else.
Jesus quotes to them an old proverb, “No prophet gains acceptance in his native place.” Then to add injury to insult, he reminds his neighbors and friends how both Elijah and Elisha favored foreigners over Israelites when it came to using their miraculous powers. This was too much for the crowd to take. They got real mad at Jesus. The whole crowd laid hold of Jesus. They dragged him out of the synagogue and led him to a cliff. They intended to throw him over and do away with him right then and there. At the last moment Jesus regains his footing, he stands up straight, eyeball to eyeball to his old neighbors and friends, and walks right through the crowd and on out of town. It was a dramatic and forceful beginning of his public ministry.
SOME PROPHETIC SIGN POSTS
Prophets are Insiders:
In today’s Ordinary Time reading from Jeremiah, we hear that God chose Jeremiah to be his prophet from before he was born. God did not choose Jeremiah to be his prophet for any foreign king or alien nation but for his own people. “Against Judah’s kings and princes, against its priests and people” (Jer. 1:18-19) God sent Jeremiah. Prophets are not strangers. They are almost always insiders. Their prophetic mission is to their own. .
The Bigger the lie, the Greater the Sin, the More accepted the Behavior, the less Obvious the Wrong:
In any group or clan, with any people or nation, the biggest lies and greatest sins are rarely seen. They are often the most acceptable social behavior. Moral theology teaches us that the more often you do a wrong and the longer you do it, the more right and true it will appear. The institution of slavery is a good historical example of a great social lie and moral sin that was once accepted as an. absolute social and moral good. Jesus’ critique of his own society was basic and at its core. He called into question some of the most cherished and honored community beliefs, wrongs done so often and for so long that they appeared to be good. Prophets expose the biggest lies and the greatest sins. For this they are not well received especially by the rich and the powerful that have a vested in interest in keeping things as they are.
Prophets Give God’s Point of View:
Prophetic statements and actions are not about the future. They are about the present moment. Prophets see and speak to the world as it is today from God’s point of view, as God would have us see it.
Good Prophets Speak With Love:
In today’s reading from 1 Corinthians we are reminded that love supersedes every and all other gifts and ministries. “If I have the gift of prophecy…but have not love, I am nothing.” (1 Cor. 13:2-3) It is not enough to be right, to have a just cause and to know the truth. It is not enough to be an insider with the responsibility and the obligation to speak to your own. Good prophets must also speak their truths in love or it counts for nothing. This is how Jesus did it. In love he wants us to do the same.
Truth With Love for Friend and Foe Alike:
If prophets must speak the truth in love they must do so to both friend and foe alike. As a rule, it is easier to love a friend than to confront them with an unpleasant truth. Conversely, it is easier to speak a harsh truth to a foe than it is to love them. When speaking truth to either one, prophets must take this into account and adjust accordingly.
SO HOW DO I MEASURE UP? A BIT OF SELF-EXAMINATION
It would be fair to say that I see my continued witnessing at Offutt Air Force Base and against nuclear weapons as part of the prophetic tradition that Jesus embodied and perfected. In that case, how do I measure up to the above Prophetic Signpost?
I see myself as being clearly an insider. I claim only to speak to my own clan, my own people, and my own faith community. More specifically, I see myself speaking to white, middle and upper class Christian Citizens of North America.
My message is simple and basic. In particular I see the possession of and the intent to use nuclear weapons as a grave moral evil. In general, I see modern day wars and preparation for these wars as a grave moral evil, in no way in keeping with the demands of the New Testament. My message and actions at Offutt question some of my faith and national community’s most cherished and basic beliefs. My message and actions are a direct threat to the status quo, to the way the world is run today. That is why my message and witness at Offutt is discredited and why I am in Federal Prison Camp today.
Do I speak for God’s point of view when I cross the line at Offutt? And do I speak and act out this prophetic message in love? I ask both of these questions together because they are both connected. And for each question my answer is the same, I sincerely hope so. I am truly trying to be honest on both accounts. The spirit of love teaches me that whatever I hold to be true, even if it be God’s truth, it must be held in all humility. Because I am a human being whatever truth I might have, the spirit of love tells me, it is never the whole truth. To be truly humble in spirit and loving in action I must in all honesty admit that I might be wrong. Such are the limits of human truth.
I may have the moral duty to live and die for my truths but I do not have the right to force my version of truth on to another human being. And I certainly never have the right to kill another human being for what I believe is right, just or true, even if I believe God is on my side. It is in this regard that the principle of nonviolence best serves the prophetic and human spirit. If nothing else to live nonviolently limits the damage I might do with the truth I proclaim in God’s name. The greatest of human tragedies and untold numbers of human deaths have accrued in the name of God. This century’s war casualties are a good example of this legacy of God’s truth that kills.
As for speaking the truth with love to both friend and foe alike, I must admit that I find it much easier to love a friend than to speak an unpleasant truth to them. And likewise, it is much easier for me to speak a harsh truth to someone I don’t like than it is to love them. I’m sure I can stand improvement in both respects.
Finally. I am not just a prophet. I am a lot of other things too. I am a human being, a baptized Christian under the same demands and challenges of any other Christian. I have faults. I have sinned. I am in need of God’s forgiveness. I admit I have a certain moral clarity in some areas of social concerns that others don’t. I certainly do not see myself as any better than anyone else. I believe my prophetic vision is as much an obligation as it is a gift, held in trust for the common good.
I am also a priest, ordained to serve the people of the Des Moines Diocese, the larger Church and the world we live in. In this I take the greatest delight and joy. To be a priest, to serve God’s people, to celebrate the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, to preach God’s Word, these are the joys of my life. And for this I am truly blessed.
95 01 29
- BOB WEIS – ONE OF OUR DIOCESAN HIDDEN TREASURES
It was with great sadness that I received word of Fr. Bob Weis’ tragic death in a car accident in Brazil. I first met Bob when I was a 9th grader at Dowling High School. He was my Latin teacher. He was a terrible Latin teacher and I was an even worse Latin student. I remember I negotiated the lowest possible passing grade, a D- at the semester break and picked up on Spanish in the Spring Semester.
I did not run into Bob until I was at the Des Moines Catholic Worker. For several years we operated a rural extension of our Catholic Worker community in the vacant rectory of St. Mary’s Parish in Rosemount, IA, just South of Des Moines. At one point Bob was assigned to be the Pastor of St. Mary’s along with the Catholic parishes in Lacona and Milo. Bob was a great support to our little community in Rosemount plus he was a frequent visitor to our city community. It was during this time that we discovered Bob’s great love for the poor and his keen sense for justice. We also learned of his great desire to serve the poor in a 3rd world setting. Finally in 1988 Fr. Bob got his wish. With Bishop Dingman’s permission, Bob was accepted as an associate in the Maryknoll society and was sent to Brazil to work with the poor. We kept in contact with Fr. Bob at the Catholic Worker through the years mostly by exchanging newsletters.
I learned a great deal about Brazil and of Bob’s work through the little newsletter the Brazilian Maryknolls published called “O’Brazil”. Fr. Bob was on the cutting edge of empowerment and justice ministry for the poor in Brazil. At the time of his death he was working with a ministry team in a remote area of Brazil trying to obtain a measure of justice for the people he served in the area of wages and land reform. His death is a great loss for the people he was serving in Brazil and for our diocese.
I wish the diocese had kept us better informed and educated of Fr. Bob’s work and ministry. In this respect, we really let him down. We need to do much more to support and highlight the life and ministry of our own people in mission work. Fr. Bob Weis was certainly one of the shining jewels of our Diocesan Catholic history.
Fr. Frank Cordaro