Jesus… came to his native place, accompanied by his disciples… When the Sabbath came he began to teach in the synagogue and many who heard him were astonished. They said, “Where did this man get all this…” And they took offense at him. (Mk 6:1-2;3)
The ancient Jews were always demanding signs from their prophets (1 Cor 1:22). Sometimes signs were given even when not asked for (Is 7:14). But just as often as the “stiff-necked” people required signs, they frequently rejected the admonitions and counsels of God’s prophets.
Israelite prophets were not like oracles of the Greek cult to which citizens would travel great distances to hear some wisdom at a revered shrine. The Jewish prophets walked amongst the people placing themselves into direct confrontation with those individuals they were sent to advise or forewarn.
Mind you, prophets were not evangelizers as such. They were not sent by God so much to preach and to teach but to caution away from an evil course or to encourage toward a good policy aligned with the will of God. This got the prophets into trouble when their counsel did not align with the will of man! Thus the Israelites often “took offense” at their prophets, rejecting them, exiling them, and even killing them.
For the most part, prophecy has come to completion since all Messianic prophecy pointed to the coming, dying, and rising of Jesus Christ. As to any prophecy about the return of Jesus, Jesus Himself tells us this: only the Father knows for certain (Mt 24:36). Still Catholics are called even today to lead others to God’s mercy while counseling the consequences for rejecting that mercy; while the Blessed Mother, as at Fatima, has been the great prophet of our age.
In order to offer a visual context to today’s Gospel reading for this 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time, we have placed on our bulletin cover a work by the Russian realist, Ilya Repin, entitled, Prophet (1890). Here we see an unnamed prophet walking among a people who have fallen into paganism and idolatry. Men stand around jeering and waving at the prophet, driving him from their midst while a boy comes up from behind wielding a rock. It is not clear if the prophet is visiting “his native place” (Mk 6:4) but he has spoken God’s word to this ancient city and now he takes his leave as one scorned and unheeded.
Repin began his artistic career as a restorer of religious icons. This experience could be one reason for his several paintings of prophets. Another may be that he saw himself as a Tolstoy of the visual arts, a presenter of realism during the insulated rule of Emperor Alexander III which set the stage for the 1917 Marxist Revolution. Repin, a voice for change who rejected Lenin’s Bolsheviks, eventually moved to Finland where he resided until his death.
While no one can take upon himself (without God’s call) the role of the prophet, we Catholics can surely see some “signs of the times” (Lk 12:54-56). Further, we are to be reminded that Christ cautions us to be on guard and to be prepared for his next and final coming (Mt 24:42-44).
-Steve Guillotte, Director of Pastoral Services