The mission to preach repentance. The mission to preach the Good News. How do we fulfil this command of Christ? Our readings today seem to circle around our vocation to be prophets, to be missionary disciples. How do we preach to our family? How do we preach to our friends? How do we preach to those we encounter? How do we preach to our culture? These are crucial questions for each one of us. Crucial because Jesus really is commanding each one of us to do this. This is not something we can delegate. This is not something we can leave to the experts.
I think it is obvious to all of us that Australia is mission territory. We can hear this reality in our conversations. We can see this depicted in our media. We can even see it being manifested in our recent discussions on how best to organise the church in Melbourne. We will hear more about this at the end of Mass today. So, what can we take from our readings today?
The first point is one I have already mentioned. This is a task that falls to each one of us. In our baptism, each one of us has been commissioned as a prophet. This task then is central to our life in Christ. It is a fundamental way of living out love of God and love of neighbour. And these two fundamental commandments – love of God and neighbour – might be a useful way of thinking through what being prophetic means concretely in our lives. What do I mean by that?
It might seem like stating the obvious but a prophet does not proclaim his or her own word. A prophet proclaims God’s Word. We hear Amos saying this in our first reading. We are impelled by God’s Word to proclaim God’s Word. The first task of the prophet then is to listen to God’s Word. Love of God, as we learn from the story of Martha and Mary, is first listening to God.
Might I suggest one way of thinking about this act of listening, a way that links closely to the way we proclaim God’s Word, that links love of God to love of neighbour?
If we look at the lives of the prophets, their message is always hard. And hard personally for the prophet. It takes a toll. The prophets often want God to leave them alone. The prophets constantly have to convert themselves in order to accomplish the task God has given them. Therefore, perhaps we might think about the Word we are called to proclaim as precisely the area of faith, the area of the Church’s teaching that we find most difficult? If we take what is hardest in our own lives as our special responsibility, this can help our prophetic ministry in a number of ways.
The first way such an approach can help us is to make us humble. If we focus on what is most difficult for us, we are less inclined to be hypocritical. Now we might think that preaching on what we struggle with is by definition hypocritical, but I don’t think that is necessarily the case. I think that boils down to how we see the task and how we achieve it.
When we preach about what we struggle with, we first have to have faith that it is Good News. We have to make the effort to understand this. And if it is Good News, then we realise the true nature of our struggles. And when we realise the true nature of our struggles, then it makes sense to do all we can to help others avoid the same struggles. Therefore, our failures or challenges do not undermine our message as hypocritical. Instead, they fuel our message as one of charity to others. May others avoid the pitfalls we have found.
Also, when we preach out of our own struggles, the humiliation we feel tempers our language. We are less likely to berate. We are less likely to ignore the potential enormity of the challenge. We are more likely to focus on God’s grace rather than our own perfection. Again, this steers us away from a hypocritical mode of preaching.
The second way that preaching out of our struggles can help us as prophets is to help us develop our ear for our audience. When we have suffered, when we have failed, we know what sounds trite. We know what works and doesn’t work. We know whether a word is coming from God or not. Preaching from our struggles therefore helps us deliver our message in a more palatable way, in a way that can be received.
We know in our own way that sometimes it is through little steps that we move along. It is through small victories, small experiences of grace that we gradually step into St Paul’s cosmic vision in our second reading. We also know that sometimes we need a wake-up call. Sometimes we need tough love.
Finally, when we preach out of our struggles, we are more able to understand rejection without giving up hope. Our first reading has the culture, the authorities telling Amos to stay in his lane, not to preach God’s Word. We know how uncomfortable God’s Word can be. So when we preach from our struggles, we can understand this reaction. And indeed, there may come a time, when we have to shake the dust from our feet and, respecting the other person’s freedom, move on to the next person. But that too is preaching. Respect for the other person and faith in God’s providence. I am not the Messiah, but Jesus is. We know in our own lives, sometimes God must break through. We also know sometimes only suffering teaches.
However, let’s pray today for our prophetic mission. May God’s tough love in our own lives fit us out better to help our brothers and sisters.