Read that first reading again – “The Lord called me from birth – from my mother’s womb .. he made me a sharpened sword…" God said, "Through you I will show my glory.”
That reading was actually written by Isaiah, but it fits with many of the prophets – and certainly it fits John the Baptist to a T. He was conceived in a specific place and time to fulfill a specific purpose: like the reading says – “that God's salvation may reach to the ends of the earth”.
Now – you may not have thought of yourself when you read this reading… most of us don’t see ourselves as prophets. But we are. Every one of us from the time we were conceived were given a mission. God doesn’t create humans for no purpose at all – we ALL have a job to do: to give glory to God. We are all called to be prophets: to stand up for the truth, but more than that, we are called to spread the Love of God. Do we recognize when we’re supposed to be prophets? Well.. all the time, I’m sure… but especially when we see injustice. We have to stand up for the truth and for the rights of those who cannot defend themselves. We hear that time and time again throughout the scriptures – and that’s what the prophets did. Unfortunately people usually didn’t want to hear what they had to say. There was a lot of opposition to God's word in the world back then, ….but it might be even worse today….
…Especially this year, with the election coming up. Unfortunately there’s going to be a whole lot of conversation that mixes politics and religion. Nothing is more certain to get people fired up than that. Have you ever been on-line and read an article or editorial – or went to a chat room? For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, there are places on-line where stories and opinions are posted, and anybody can reply with their opinions. It’s amazing some of the things that are said on-line. You know, if you and I are having a face to face conversation, we're more likely to stay somewhat civil – to weigh our words before we speak.. but not on the computer... it's so easy to let my feelings just fly. It’s kinda scary how quickly most of those conversations get nasty – especially the ones that touch on religion and politics…. I’m serious – it seems anytime someone tries to stand up for the Truth, all the people with a bone to pick show up and start airing their grievances against the church. It’s to the point that it’s almost predictable that somebody will bring up the Priest scandals, somebody will rant about how we “worship Mary” (which we don’t), somebody will bring up their disagreements on the Church’s teachings about Confession and Divorce and Abortion and it seems everybody knows a priest or a deacon who gave an awful piece of advice once – and they use that as their excuse to leave the church. And now they feel like they have to justify their decision by bashing the Church….well, the replies keep flying on and on until EVERYbody is ticked off or hurt.
I rarely read those kind of posts, because I always come away sad… sad for the people who got slammed by somebody else’s opinion and sad for the people who are obviously hurting from some past experience, because they lash out just trying to hurt and tear down. They obviously care or at least feel guilty or they wouldn’t even bother opening their mouths. I think in some ways it’s really a cry for help… but Unfortunately, because THEY have such a nasty reply – people reading it get all worked up and they come back with an even nastier reply.
When you or I get pulled into a conversation like that, what should we do? Honestly, I don’t know – but I’ve been praying about that and I have a few guidelines to suggest we follow. First – we cannot compromise the Truth. As prophets, No matter how much we want to be somebody’s friend, we cannot condone a false statement. However – Second – we should try to see it their way before we respond. Maybe we misunderstood their point? Ask them questions about why they think that way. We cannot condemn them… we must have empathy for the person, helping to guide them to think of it another way – and then let God reach them through that seed you planted. We don’t have to have the last word....let God have the last word. The third thing to remember is that as prophets, our job is not to win arguments – but it is to win the hearts of people for God. If I let my humanness and pride get in the way and start arguing and judging, people will lose respect for me and won’t hear another word I say. I would effectively lose my voice like Zechariah…. Nobody will listen to me anymore. All of us can be more effective in standing up for the truth if we taste our own words before we spit them out... In other words, think about what response we WANT from the person and consider whether our answer will achieve that – or just make them more angry. Sometimes silence is the best answer.
Finally, don’t push their buttons... in other words, if you KNOW something will make them angry, don’t go there. Once they’re angry, they’ve lost the will and patience to hear the rest of what you have to say. For example, if you know somebody is a vegetarian, don’t start making fun of or condemning vegetarians. If someone is an athiest, don’t say something like "how can you be such an ignoramous? If someone leans toward the right or toward the left politically, don’t be making comments about their favorite politicians... stick with the issue at hand...
Yes, there may be times we need to get angry and risk making people angry -- and you could argue that Jesus did that when he cleared the temple.... but... he only cleared the temple once. Most of the time, he was non-condemning and compassionate... and because of the Love that poured from every fiber of his being, people listened, learned, and changed their lives.
You and I are prophets... we are the voice of God in the world and the world NEEDS to hear the Truth from us. God formed every one of us from the time we were conceived to be his prophets. Remember what our purpose is? From the first reading: “that God's salvation may reach to the ends of the earth”. Yes, we need to speak out against the injustices... but we need to do it in a way that brings back the lost sheep... not chase them away. We are not out to win arguments, but to win hearts.