Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time - Fr. Adam Royal
August 14, 2022 - 11:00 AM
Ancient Israel had a bit of a listening problem. They only wanted to hear words of comfort and peace and so they demanded these words from the prophets. The prophets of Israel weren’t like the self-proclaimed prophets of today. In the overwhelming majority of cases you did not just wake up and decide you were a prophet. There were a few of these but they were the exception. Instead, you belonged to the guild of prophets. Prophet was your profession, and the people of Israel went to them for everything. What should I plant this year? Should I marry this person? Is war on the horizon? Simply offer the prophet a few coins and God himself would give you an answer through them. And this is where the problem lay. A prophet would only make a living if people were willing to pay him to speak. The crafty ones quickly realized, people only want to hear good things, so they would lie. The prophets stopped being channels of God’s word and became charlatans, they became no better than $4 per minute telephone psychics.
Yet, for all of this, a few remained loyal. One or two authentic prophets could still be found in even the most corrupt days of Israel. And they were easy to identify. The scriptures plainly record that when the kings of Judah and Israel wanted a true prophet rather than lies, they ordered their servants to search out the prophet who was preaching God’s anger, the one who was predicting doom and gloom. He must be the real deal because few people will pay to be told that God is about to punish them.
Now all of this is not to say that God only has wrath and anger in store for us. Or that only bad news is true news. No. It is to say that we live in a fallen world, a world of sin and mixed motives, where the truth is hard to find and when we discover the truth, it can be unpleasant and even a heavy burden. So many voices are trying to seduce us with comforting lies. They want us to buy new nick-knacks which are claimed to make life more comfortable but really only fill our lives with more junk, or they promise new technologies that will save us time and yet only seem to pull us ever deeper into the technology and we never seem to find all that extra time. There are even those so called prophets who for a free will offering will tell us with a big grin on their faces how much God loves us and wants us to be rich.
And then there is Jesus. “I have come to set the world on fire, to sow division and not peace.” No one in their right mind would pay to have a prophet say these words. So, by the standards of Israel, he must be the real deal. But the earliest days of the Jesus movement probably had an image problem. Jesus had been giving everyone a pi in the sky idea about universal peace, infinite love, perfect justice, and unlimited treasures in heaven. To those who had so often been disappointed by false prophets and utopian dreamers, Jesus must have looked like one more looming disappointment, one more soothing and seductive voice that would help us forget our problems.
Then, he said he came to sow division, and everything became a little clearer. Jesus was not one more pseudo-prophet looking for money and telling us what we want to hear. In fact, he isn’t offering us anything at all. He is simply telling us how the world really is. Jesus and his words are the way. Jesus is life. Jesus is truth. Jesus is love. Whoever loves, loves with the very love of God that has been revealed to us in Jesus. Whoever speaks the truth, the hard truths that cut to our hearts and free us from delusion, speaks the words of God. Whoever is alive, that is truly alive, not those walking around like zombies immersed in television or smartphones, but those who live deeply, those who stand in awe at the beauty of the universe, who are always thankful for their very existence, they live in God, they are already living the resurrected life that Jesus won for us. And all of these things are divisive because some people just don’t want them. Some people do not want to love unselfishly, to love until it hurts. Some people cannot bear the truth and would rather be surrounded by the lying voices of false prophets. And some people do not even want life. They do not want to take the risk of being challenged of growing and so drawing closer to the flaming heart of God which burns away every imperfection, every lie.
God is life, love, and truth. And he came into the world to give himself to all people and unite us into one family. But to those who do not want it, he has nothing else to give and so they are left with only division.