In today’s readings, the biblical authors are one in the subtle reminder that we are all called to be prophets, to be the courageous voice of the Spirit in its proclamation for simple sharing as the way to a sustainable justice and peace.
This reminder is no less clearly echoed in Moses’ yet unfulfilled wish, “Would that all the people of the Lord were prophets! Would that the Lord might bestow his spirit on them all!” Therefore, it is God’s will that by virtue of our baptism as his adopted children, we are all given both the graces and the responsibility to herald “the precepts of the Lord that give joy to the heart” and to defend “his decrees which are perfect and refreshing to the soul.”
However, we are reminded that “the law of the Lord” carries both a message of doom as well as of hope. His ordinances are an eternal consolation and a promise of his vengeance for all those who will obey and bear sufferings for the sake of the kingdom; and a terrifying warning for all those who will deny and disobey him, causing the very sufferings in obstruction of justice and peace. His commandments thus should evoke in us a “holy fear,” not a fear in the destruction by the One who chastises, but a fear in becoming unworthy of the love of he who re-creates us from the ashes and ruins of our past transgressions. His admonitions have deep meanings that are not too erudite, “giving simple wisdom to the simple among us,” a wisdom which everybody can readily grasp and comprehend, a sensible way of thinking that is relevant to the everyday experience of the learned and unlearned. Yet in spite of its simplicity and our diligence, God is aware of our imperfections and our “failings” and “unknown faults” and it is to his example that we must always turn for correction and guidance.
James elaborates for us the prophetic ministry to all those who have appropriated unjustly for themselves more than their equitable share of the providence of God, and the ominous prediction that the treasures they have hoarded through the “hard work” they exerted in denying the “undeserving” what they need, and in claiming what they want because they are “deserving,” will soon be gone. Worse, he also reprimands that if they have gone to the greater extent of “condemning and murdering” the prophets who “offer no resistance,” then they shall completely fall under his great wrath.
They must dare listen to it, for what humanity cannot put in order, the Lord himself will set straight.
But the enemies of the kingdom may come not only from those who chose to dwell outside of it, but from those who are already inside it; and they may turn out to be worse. Have we ever entertained the uneasy thought of desiring to impede those who are also doing what we do, thinking that we are better “qualified” or more “deserving” of this-or-that prophet’s role than somebody else? Are we not aware that the Lord in his infinite wisdom, always knows what he’s doing?
All of us are called to be prophets for the kingdom of God, but it is the cancer of jealousy that will consume our energies in an unnecessary competition, and divide this body of his people towards a downfall that should never happen. We are cautioned in the Gospel that if because of jealousy we take sides against another who also works for him, then we may find ourselves taking sides against Christ himself. So, if we are against Christ, are we not working against justice, and rather in aid of injustice? We will become no less culpable than the cruel oppressors we have sworn to fight.
The evil of jealousy lurks on the inside of the Church, along with pride and avarice. Christ instructs that whatever or “whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin,” must be cut off: the proud, the jealous and the greedy. And the extreme pain of an internal cleansing, a self-initiated renewal which is much more difficult than that of a renewal of those who are just returning to it, must be endured if the Church is to be preserved for the mission of accomplishing the kingdom.
We must dare do it, for what humanity cannot sever, the Lord himself will cut off.
Brother Jess Matias is a professed brother of the Secular Franciscan Order. He serves as minister of the St. Pio of Pietrelcina Fraternity at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Mandaluyong City, coordinator of the Padre Pio Prayer Groups of the Capuchins in the Philippines and prison counselor and catechist for the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology.
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