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In the Master’s Hands

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In the Old Testament, a prophet was someone who brought the word of God to the people. He has spoken through the prophets; we say in the Creed.

The prophet speaks in two dimensions: Firstly, he foretells the future, as when they warned the people of Israel of the consequences of their unfaithfulness Secondly, he interprets many events in light of the divine plan inscribed in the nature of human beings.

Jesus said that John the Baptist is the greatest of all prophets, because he carried out these two tasks in a unique way: He called his fellow countrymen and foreigners to repentance to immediately receive the Kingdom and as Jesus approached John pointed to him and said: Behold, the Lamb of God! (Jn 1:29,36).

To prophesize is to perceive the world through different eyes, in a different light. It is not just to predict some devastating events, but rather to detect the signs of the presence of God in history and in our personal history. Prophets can see how teachings in the Gospel that apparently are general and abstract apply to the concrete circumstances of their own time and place.

Of course, Jesus Christ is the Prophet par excellence, and in Baptism we are empowered to participate in this ministry. We are prophets today. It is a calling that we all have been given and to which we must respond; we have been enabled to read the signs of the time in the light of God’s word.

Our Founder has vividly highlighted this ministry:

The holy prophet keeps improving, he becomes an increasingly better prophet, he prophesies better, he points out better the prophecy, and gives greater magnitude to the matter that is prophesying, which is nothing other than that sublime horizon in which he sees life under the mirror of God (January 23, 1973).

And, referring to the false prophets:

They also prophesy because every human being has to prophesy. What do they announce? Their vices, the emptiness in which they live; they announce cowardice, vileness and every form of hypocrisy, even the most refined, and even with the appearance of being enormously pious (Ibid).

These remarks are crucial, because they highlight two points often forget or do not take into account:

* Prophesy is not an ability of some Christians, but a gift we all should welcome and integrate in our life. When Paul famously asks Are all prophets? (1 Cor12:29), he is warning us of the risk of the many false prophets. John admonished: Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world (1 Jn 4:1).

* Prophesy is stronger than ourselves, whether we are good or bad prophets: Where did the man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been granted him, and these miracles that are worked through him? Let us not overlook the powerful warning message in the First Reading: And whether they heed or resist –for they are a rebellious house– they shall know that a prophet has been among them.

In a poem entitled Love, the Polish poet and Nobel Laureate Czeslaw Milosz says:

Love means to learn to look at yourself the way one looks at distant things.
For you are only one among many.
And whoever sees that way heals his heart, without knowing it, from various ills.
A bird and a tree say to him: Friend.
Then he wants to use himself and things so that they stand in the glow of ripeness.
It does not matter whether he knows what he serves:
Who serves best does not always understand.


Is it not both beautiful and meaningful? We need to follow the voice of his Spirit, even when we do not understand the form how it comes or where it goes; we have to give up the need for security and control that insists on understanding where an inspiration will be leading us.

A great violinist announced he would give a concert using an unusually expensive violin. On the designated night, violin lovers packed the hall to hear the instrument played. The violinist came out on stage and gave an exquisite performance, climaxed by a thunderous ovation from the appreciative crowd. He bowed to acknowledge the cheers, then suddenly threw the instrument to the floor, stomped it to pieces, and walked off stage. The audience was horrified.  A few minutes later, the stage manager came out and said to the stunned crowd: Ladies and gentlemen, the violin that was just destroyed was only a twenty-dollar violin. The maestro will now return to play on the advertised instrument. He did so, and few could even tell the difference.

It is not primarily the violin that makes the music: it is the violinist. Most of us are twenty-dollar violins at best. But in the Master’s hands we can make beautiful music. God uses as apostles and prophets ordinary people with a variety of defects and weaknesses, for when I am weak, then I am strong, as St. Paul says us today.

It is not what you are that is important, but the measure of your personal integrity. A true prophet is not only one who speaks the word of God but also demonstrates it in his very life. The true mission of the prophets is not to predict the future but to create it by living it out in preview.

But sadly, God is “too close” for us. Distance is not the problem, but rather closeness; this is why we say that familiarity breeds contempt. We do not believe that the presence of a human being, whoever he may be, entails a message from God. Jesus was astonished at the lack of faith of his relatives and the townsfolk. As we said above, a true prophet sees the hidden spiritual importance of small details and signs…and takes it seriously in his life and in the life of his neighbors. This is integrity. An example:

Imagine that a member of your family or your religious community refuses to cook. He/she will probably argue something like “I never did it”, “I am bad at that” or perhaps “I have more important things to do”.

The worldly reaction of the superior will depend of his/her mood and temperament:

  • OK; I will do it instead.
  • Do it right now, obey immediately or I shall punish you.
  • It does not matter; let us go eat some fast food.

Probably, the spiritually sensitive answer would be something like: Let us make a simple recipe together today and tomorrow perhaps you can try by yourself.

Truly, if you believe that this example has little to do with prophecy, you are missing all the calls from God to act in His behalf. Sometimes we forget that we are prophets to each other. Our friends, our relatives and people who are familiar to us, might be the prophets that God sends to make His will known to us. we are familiar with them, and perhaps because they do things that are not pleasing to us, we despise them and we put down the opportunity. Jesus, Lazarus, the blind, the lepers, the children, the sinners…were not considered as messengers of our Heavenly Father, simply because they had lived among us.

Perhaps I am waiting for something like the opportunity of my lifetime? It is easy to fool ourselves. A story is told about a fool who was being annoyed by children. In order to get rid of them, he told them that pudding was being given freely to children on the other side of the town. The children, believing this, dispersed running in the direction he had mentioned. When the fool saw this, he too, started going in the same direction, saying to himself: This may be true!

Cardinal John Henry Newman said: To live is to change, and to live fully is to change frequently. The most practical way become a prophet is to promise God you will make constant changes in your lifestyle, guided by a desire to make everything you say, do, or decide, bear witness to Christ’s values. This was the youthful wisdom of Saint Aloysius Gonzaga who, before saying a word or before doing anything, asked himself: What will this profit me for eternity?

Prophets live in a permanent conversion experience, in sharp contrast with the majority of us, who become complacent in our relationship with God. A story is told of a bird who is locked in a cage and learns there is nothing it can do to get free. Then one day, the door is accidently left open, but the bird, even though it could escape, does not. It is responding to its old circumstances. This is called ‘learned helplessness’. When we get stuck living in the past, acting as if we are powerless, we are only handicapping ourselves. Drawing conclusions about our experiences can be helpful, but when we form overly negative or distorted assumptions about our abilities and se do not interpret the signs, we limit the possibility for joy, growth, and peace of mind.

Because of their lack of faith, Jesus could not perform any miracles in His hometown. This lack of faith can be translated as: I see clearly that asking Jesus his opinion about this moment would be positive…but I am not going to do it. This resilience goes beyond my mind and my will, it is an authentic, although silent and masked rebellion against God, summarized in the phrase: I am good enough.

Due to our chronic resistance to change, prophets must expect rejection and hostility. They will be typically called extremists, exaggerated, unrealistic and insensitive. They must be prepared to accept this with peaceful and loving hearts. They do not have to prove they are right; God will do that. He does it especially by confirming with peace in their hearts the truth they live out in action.

To bear witness to Christ as prophets we will surely be instruments of God to work healing miracles. But the first one we do have to be a visible, living miracle of grace.

The freedom of spirit of prophets is rooted in Jesus’ words at the Last Supper (Jn 15: 12-17): I no longer call you servants, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. When we are aware of the extent of this act of trust, we cannot help but lay down our life for others.