Of prophets … and hometowns

Today’s gospel (Luke 4:21-30, RCL) includes that oft-quoted passage about how anyone with a prophetic message (which is pretty much always bad news) isn’t going to get a fair hearing among his/her friends and family. “No prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown” Jesus says among his homies; and they are so angry they try to haul him off to the nearest cliff so they can throw him to his death.

Talk about not being accepted. Thankfully, Jesus — in true shamanic fashion — walks right through the middle of the angry mob, apparently unnoticed, and makes good his getaway.

On hearing this passage our minds usually drift toward empathy with Jesus’ statement about inevitable rejection from our hometown crowd. But this morning, as I listened once again to this familiar passage, my attention was yanked, and then glued (I missed the rest of the gospel and a fair amount of the prayers that followed), to the whole idea of prophecy.

I have often said that we religious are (or at least should be) today’s prophets; we are the ones commissioned to stand out there on the edge of things, challenging, inviting, cajoling the rest of the church and anyone else who will listen to leave that proverbial comfort zone and follow Jesus into the future.

Common understanding notwithstanding, a prophet isn’t a fortune-teller, and s/he isn’t the designated doom-sayer, either; there are no crystal balls involved. A prophet has the amazing ability to be obedient to today.

Come again?

OK, “obedience” is not saying yessir/nosir to the ones standing on the rungs above you. This lovely word comes down to us with roots in “toward” and “listen” (ob – audire). To be obedient is to “listen toward”. Imagine leaning toward a speaker so you hear and understand every word. Quite a challenge when those lips are spouting something we don’t want to hear, something that yanks our emotional chain, something we don’t agree with and don’t enjoy hearing.

A prophet has great skill in just that kind of deep listening. S/he is something of a blank slate upon which all of the information spinning around us today can be written. And what does s/he do with it?

A true prophet takes it in, and then looks at it with what I call the “35,000 foot viewpoint” — avoiding the devil-in-the-details snare so the big picture zooms into focus. S/he has the ability to look at the train we’re all on, and then to figure out where that train is headed.

If you see a train speeding toward a washed-out trestle, you just have to do something. Call 911. Rehearse your CPR and crash-EMT skills. Try to get the engineer’s attention. Anything.

Anything at all, because you can see an inevitable disaster looming on the horizon.

That is prophetic witness. No wonder we don’t want to hear from these folks. We’re sipping our martinis in the club car, looking sideways at pretty scenery sliding by the window. Don’t annoy us with 911 calls and red flags.

But the prophets, who see the scenery, the passengers, and the destination of the train, are trying to get our attention. Considering that the entire Earth is our hometown, it’s no wonder they’re having a rough time.

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