The Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time [B]
Deuteronomy 18:15-20 + 1 Corinthians 7:32-35 + Mark 1:21-28
… He taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes.
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Every baptized Christian, by virtue of his or her baptism, is called to be a prophet. Prophecy is not just for large, dramatic figures such as Moses. Nor is it limited to the mystic past, as in ancient Israel. Each one of you is called to be a prophet in the midst of your ordinary life. But what is a prophet?
Biblical prophecy usually concerns the past. The job of the prophet is to remind God’s People of what He had told them in the past about how to live their lives. He is not a fortune teller.
When the prophet does speak about the future, he usually relates the future to the past, as in this Sunday’s First Reading. The prophet says to God’s People something like: “What you are now doing does not reflect what God asked you in the past to do, and therefore here are the consequences that will happen if you do not change course.”
In a single word, the prophet calls God’s People to integrity. The prophet sets before God’s People the truth that their lives today must reflect the promises they made to God in the past so that they can enjoy God’s Presence in the future.
Unfortunately, there are many currents in popular culture today that suggest that we don’t need to worry about that. They tell us that everyone goes to Heaven. This is why Christians hear very few sermons about sin today, much less about mortal sin. Such sermons are irrelevant if everyone is going to Heaven. If everyone is going to Heaven, then the role of prophecy is meaningless. But of course, that’s not true, and God reveals in today’s Scriptures why not.
As you likely know from experience, people don’t like to be told that they’re making a mistake. It’s a lot easier just to leave people alone than to risk alienating them. Conversely, it’s easy to be popular by always telling people what they want to hear.
Anyone who’s a parent knows about this. Often, a parent has a choice between on the one hand being popular, and on the other hand being faithful to the responsibility of pointing out not only current problems, but also problems that are coming down the pike.
In addition to this responsibility, parents also know of a second important fact about leading their children: that actions can be just as powerful, if not more powerful, than words.
Parents know instinctively how much their children watch them. One of the reasons why children watch their parents is to learn how to accomplish things: how to fish, how to ride a bike, how to sew. But the other side of this coin is that children learn to understand their parents very well, including their mistakes. How often, when parents tell their children how to act, do the children reply with, “But you don’t do that!”? Teaching by example, rather than by words, prevents this.
So when it comes to teaching their children, many parents fear their children calling them hypocrites. The fear of this single word—hypocrite—does more than anything else to tie the tongues of parents: to prevent them from carrying out the prophetic office that God calls them to as parents.
This fear is related to another fear: that children will rebel by saying, “How can you tell me not to do this, when I know that this is what you did when you were my age?”
However, it is not hypocrisy for parents to tell their children not to do something, even when the parents themselves did that very thing when they were young, provided that parents are not doing so now. It would only be hypocrisy if parents were to tell their children not to do something that the parents were currently doing. To tell your children not to do something that you once did, but no longer do, is simply teaching based on what you’ve learned from your mistakes, and that’s one form of wisdom, not hypocrisy. Just as parents want their children to be better off materially than they were growing up, so parents are right to want their children to be better off morally than they were.