By Audrey Scanlan
Imagine a want ad advertising for the job of a prophet:
WANTED: a prophet
This senior staff, full time, exempt-level position in the kingdom of God is available immediately for the right person. Must love speaking in front of crowds, handle criticism well, be open to differing opinions, not be afraid to deliver a strong message, have good people skills and the ability to discern the Word of God. Significant travel is required. Potential perils may include shaming, stoning, or being hurled off of a cliff.
Please prepare a withering proclamation of doom and judgment and send to kingdomofgod.heaven.com
Jesus, as we all know, was not the first person to speak the Word of God in a prophetic manner. Our Bible gives us God’s Word, in the mouths of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Micah, Zephaniah, and Habakkuk, to name just a few. The canon of our Holy Scriptures includes the words of 20 or so prophets and I am sure that for each prophet’s words preserved in our black leather Bibles, there were several hundred others, in ancient times, proclaiming the Word of God … some of them authentic … and some, I am sure, not.
We know, of course, that it is because of the strong voices of God’s justice, that much has been accomplished in this world. Prophets calling for change: Abolitionists John Brown and William Lloyd Garrison speaking out against the sin of slavery. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony and Lucy Stone, early activists striving for women’s rights. Mother Teresa’s powerful example and call to serve the poor. Martin Luther King Jr.’s call for racial and civil rights. Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela’s cry for justice in the fight to end apartheid — all of these people of faith, dedicated to justice and righteousness and truth.
To speak the Word of God is both a privilege and a risky endeavor that can only be fueled by holy passion.
The gospel lesson this morning can be diagrammed like a football play with arrows and circles showing Jesus’ moves and the people’s moves first with him … and then against him … or it can be written like a script with stage directions.
But simply put, here’s the long and short of it:
- Jesus proclaims the Good News.
- The people love him.
- The people ask for signs and proofs that Jesus is the prophet that he claims to be.
- Jesus tells the people that his ministry is for everyone (not just them)
- The people rise up against him and try to kill him.
- He gives them the slip, and takes his leave.
It’s a fast-turning tide from being proud of their homeboy … to chasing him to the edge of a cliff.
What was so threatening?
Jesus’ message of love that knows no bounds.
You see, Jesus’ reach in his prophetic message extended far beyond his hometown to people who were well outside his social, cultural and ethnic circle. Jesus proclaimed a message of love and healing for all — healing for outsiders like the widow of Zarephath and Naaman the Syrian … not just the neighbors in the next yard over.
Jesus erased boundaries with God’s love.
When I was 4, my mom moved me and my two brothers to a new town. She had been recently widowed, and we moved so she could take a job teaching English at the Kent School. We moved from Rye, New York, to Northwestern Connecticut and were placed in a beautiful Dutch colonial house on a tree-lined street. It was a house owned by the school.
Next door lived a family with five kids. Two were away at boarding school, but the remaining three were home and we became mortal enemies. The kids next door were older by a few years … and meaner, by a lot. We had boundary wars. Two of the neighbors were twin girls, three years older than I. They liked to play in the shade of the trees that separated our yards and they built little forts around the tree trunks and in the bushes. We fought tooth and nail over those little forts. My brothers and I claimed the area beneath the trees as our own.
At the height of our feud, one of the twins nailed my brother in the eye with a well-aimed rock and he was sped off to the emergency room. I remember the dad next door was pretty concerned. My brother’s eye was ok. And then one day, my mother sat us down on the living room sofa after supper. And she told us that she was going to be married … to the next-door neighbor. (It turns out he was a divorcee. I don’t think I’d even noticed.)
The kids next door were soon to be our siblings. It was my first moment of profound psychic and spiritual confusion. What I had come to hate, categorically, I was now going to have to love. The boundary — the physical boundary of my yard and my domain as separated from those other kids — was suddenly meaningless. We were going to be one. It was a boundary that was literally erased by love. And, kind of like Jesus’ hometown neighbors, we (I) wasn’t ready for it. But that’s how love works. Love prevails. The power of love transcends time and space and bricks and mortar and boundaries and color of skin and native tongue and religion and need. The currency of love is liquid and it pours forth from God in a steady, flowing stream.
Paul knew this, and in his letter to the Corinthians he reminds them: “Love never ends. Prophesies will come to an end, tongues will cease, knowledge will come to an end. But love … love abides.” Love abides.
We moved out of that little town in Connecticut to another village and to a bigger house. We became “Yours, Mine and Ours” and learned how to live — and love — together. We are more than 50 years older now, and we live in seven different states. But I remember that day as though it were yesterday: the day when the boundary line was rubbed out by love.
There are no boundary lines in the kingdom of God. Our prophets tell us about a place in which the mountains are made low and the rough places plain.
It’s time to listen to the prophets. Because, it seems, they are right.
God’s Word is just and true and God’s mercy — and love — know no end.
What boundaries, I wonder, is God’s love ready to erase for you?
The Rt. Rev. Audrey Scanlan is Bishop of Central Pennsylvania.