The disciples asked Jesus, ‘Why, then, do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?’ He replied, ‘Elijah is indeed coming and will restore all things; but I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but they did to him whatever they pleased. So also the Son of Man is about to suffer at their hands.’ Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them about John the Baptist.
In Mark’s gospel Jesus says: Prophets are not without honour, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house. It is this very situation that Jesus speaks of in our reading for today. Jesus says to his disciples: I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but they did to him whatever they pleased.
Throughout the history of humanity God has sought to impart his word to us through the ministry of those endowed with the gift of prophecy. Throughout history those people have been ignored, persecuted and martyred. The simple message of God’s love for us has been seen as the rantings of the crackpot rather than the inspired word of God himself. In Jesus’ own time this was the fate of John the Baptist, and it will become the fate of Jesus himself in the days to come. Those who seek to communicate the divinely inspired word of God are vilified and rejected in their own communities, in their more intimate social circles and within their own families. This has been the fate of the prophet throughout the history of the human race.
Today we are being challenged in two ways: firstly, we are being challenged to consider our own response to those who are prophetic in the way they live out their faith; and, secondly, we are being challenged to find and use our own prophetic voice.
From our earliest social interactions we do not like to be seen as being different. We like to blend in with the crowd, to be one of those who are accepted because of their conformity. Whether this is expressed in the fashionable clothes we wear, or the music we listen to or, in these days, the way we engage with social media, we like to be seen as ‘one of the crowd’, and we definitely do not like standing out as being different. As we get older some of this need to be the ‘same’ as everyone else falls away and we begin to develop a little more individuality. But, we still do not like to be seen as ‘different’.
In today’s reading Jesus shows that he understands this almost universal human characteristic. However, he does not condone it. Instead, by highlighting the fate of John the Baptist, and by hinting at his own destiny, Jesus is showing the importance of our willingness to stand out from the crowd as we live a life of prophetic discipleship.
It is not always easy to speak of God when we are surrounded by those who show no understanding of our faith. But, that is the call of the prophetic disciple. Most people do not have cause to deny their human parentage which is, in its humanity, flawed. But, the same cannot be said when it comes to speaking of our heavenly Father, who is definitely without flaw. Rather than being proud of our faith in God, we use weasel words to get around the open and definite proclamation of our faith. Rather than risking the fate of the prophets who have gone before us we obfuscate and prevaricate, we sometimes even lie!
Let us pray for the strength, the courage and the inspiration to be true, loyal, courageous and prophetic disciples of Christ as we live out our daily lives.
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