“For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” (Matthew, 18:20)
The appearance of the prophets in the history of Israel was truly an extraordinary occurrence. At the time of what has been called the first axial age, mostly between the eighth to fifth century B.C. when Buddha, Confucius and other great religious figures emerged, the prophets also appeared. They spoke God’s word, sometimes difficult as it was to hear, and called the people back to their roots. They often challenged the political powers, such as Kings.
Jesus falls into this category and certainly was a prophet. In today’s gospel Matthew portrays Jesus as calling the people of God’s kingdom to also be prophets. They must speak the truth, whether convenient or not. Within the community this calls for the difficult assignment of mutual correction. The call to reconciliation must not be shunned. And Jesus encourages us by reminding us that where two or three are gathered in his name, he is there in our midst. The idea that each one of us can make our own truth, largely believed by many today, is contrary to the prophetic word. Today people tend to call people names if they disagree with them. Jesus’ way is marked by love and compassion. Correct, admonish, proclaim the truth but always in respect and love.
In our first reading the prophet Ezechiel is called a watchman and is instructed that “whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them a warning from me.” This wasn’t an easy assignment and, as usual, many people did not appreciate it. Such prophets, as Isaiah and Jeremiah and Amos all asked God not to choose them. It can be a thankless job. Walter Bruegermann, well known for his writings on the prophetic imagination, says there are three characteristics of prophets. First, they speak from within the community and not throwing stones from outside. Secondly, they call the people back to their roots. And, thirdly, they usually suffer because of their words. So, if you hesitate to accept being a prophet, know that God chooses you and will be with you. Just speak the truth and speak it with love.