The Career of Career Prophets
Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (B) | Fr Leon Pereira reminds us of the true prophetic witness that we Christians are called to give.
Someone’s job title denotes their function and defines their identity. A teacher teaches (more or less effectively), a doctor doctors (after a fashion). A prophet prophesies, that is, he or she tells the truth from God.
A teacher or a doctor may well see their job as a vocation, a calling from above, or they may see it as merely a way to pay the bills. A prophet has no choice in the matter—he is not, and cannot be, a prophet for profit. How successful prophets may be in terms of their message being received, or in earthly and monetary terms, is quite irrelevant.
In the first reading, Amos is annoying the powerful and the wealthy in Israel with his prophesying. Unlike other prophets who belonged to a guild and chose it as a career, Amos was a herdsman and dresser of sycamores when God called him. He challenged Israel to moral reform and was hated for it. The guild prophets preferred not to rock the boat. They lived a comfortable life uttering comfortable words, and avoiding controversy.
In fairness, Amos did not set out to court controversy. He set out to be faithful to the truth. That is sufficiently controversial in itself! The priest Amaziah accuses Amos of being a troublemaker and of plotting against the King, and urges him:
‘O seer, go, flee away to the land of Judah, and eat bread there, and prophesy there.’ (Amos 7:12)
Amaziah is certainly not interested in the truth. Notice how he sees prophesying in terms of its human gains: eat bread there, prophesy there. Amaziah means prophesying is making of living; it is not primarily about truth. Amaziah wants Amos to be a career prophet.
Like Amos’s time, today many want the Church to be silent about morality and ambivalent about doctrine. Christians are pushed out of the public square. We are accused of imposing our morality. We are portrayed as hate-filled bigots because we believe in divine revelation and right reason, and desire more love for the afflicted than the world does. Worst of all, we are continually betrayed by our own. For the wolves know they have free rein in God’s sheepfold when the shepherds have become sheep in sheep’s clothing. Or as Amaziah hoped for Amos, when shepherds become career prophets.
Career prophets have a comfortable life. To an unconverted world, they preach nothing which might convert it. In our own time we see such things as Catholic theologians (who are neither Catholic nor theologians in any true sense) promote lies and dissent; an ostensibly Catholic nation voting for ‘gay marriage’ and abortion from a distorted understanding of ‘rights’; the privation of food, water, and air from the comatose hailed as ‘the best possible medical care’. Meanwhile we are told mercy is for everyone (which is true) but not about repentance as a prerequisite. The only gospel tolerated is ‘inclusivity’ and a token nod to eco-friendliness.
It’s easy to preach such a gospel, and easy to bask in the world’s version of love. There is a problem: career prophets are false prophets. Jesus says,
‘Woe to you, when all men speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.’ (Luke 6:26).
Like Amos, the apostles did not choose Jesus, but He chose them (John 15:16). He gives them special instructions for a specific mission: they receive His authority over demons, they are to rely on divine providence and charity, their preaching will be a sign to those who reject it. In their pastoral ministry, they preach that men should repent (otherwise how could people receive Divine Mercy?), they cast out demons, and they anoint with oil and heal the sick.
This is what our baptism calls us to: we too are prophets (and priests and kings as well!), and are called to preach ‘the truth in love’ (Ephesians 4:15). The spiritual works of mercy include to instruct the ignorant, and to admonish sinners, but done with love and prudence. Through the power of Christ ‘now shall the ruler of this world be cast out’ (John 12:31). Both the message and the victory are Christ’s, and this is why He will win.
Photograph by Fr Lawrence Lew OP of a window in Glasgow’s Episcopal Cathedral.