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The 6th Sunday after Pentecost>; Mark 6:1-13

You might have heard of or seen Charlie Farquharson, the fictional farmer from Parry Sound, created by Canadian writer and actor, the late Don Harron (d. 2015). Harron was a serious Christian, who knew the Bible well enough to parody it. “Olde Charlie Farquharson’s Testament” was the result; both a book and a sometime stage show. I saw the stage show at a Summer theatre in Muskoka in the 1990s, and have the book, inscribed by the author “Fur jerry, frum yer biblickle sculler Charlie Farquharson”.
Good parody needs a deep understanding of the subject. Charlie/Harron shows this is in his summary of all the minor biblical prophets:

A profit is sumbuddy gets up on a high place, looks down on everybuddy elts. No matter what ther name is, everyone of them profits seems to tell the people the same thing: Yer doin’ it all rong!!!

Some of us, when hearing the word “prophet” see a wizened old man, thundering out God’s judgment upon unrepentant and unreceptive people. Prophecy, according to that, is a message from God, telling people their actions are against God’s will, and predicting awful consequences, sent by God. Sometimes the warning has a promise of peace, prosperity, and blessing if people will repent and return to God’s will.

Others see a fortune teller in the word “prophet.” In our times, a prophet makes predictions about the future. That has been applied to biblical prophets, and you’ll have no trouble finding interpreters of the prophetic books (in print and televison an no doubt blogs and vlogs) that apply their smallest details to our present time, two to three thousand years after they were written. This is done by ripping a phrase here, a verse there, out of their biblical context, and stringing them together to fit to present events and predicted future. What these interpreters forget or don’t know, this has been done in every age; there have always been interpretations of biblical prophecies that apply them to the present and immediate future, very few of which have actually happened.

Actually, as a true definition of the biblical prophet and biblical prophecy, Charlie Farquharson’s is not bad. A prophet is someone who gets up and tells peope, “You’re doing it all wrong!” Biblical prophets were not fore-tellers, they were forth-tellers. They carefully examined the signs of the times, how people and rulers were behaving, and told the truth about the situation. In doing that they confronted the people and rulers with God’s word, showed how far they had fallen away from God’ will, and explained the consequences of continuing to defy and deny God, but also, the blessings of returning to God’s way.

This is not popular work; this does not get you invited to the best cocktail parties! By its very nature, prophesy tells the truth for people who are unwilling or unable to face it. Prophesy confronts people with their denials and deceptions, and presents them with reality. No one want to hear this; that is why prophesy in biblical times and today is so often unheard and rejected.

The simplest way of rejecting prophesy is to reject the prophet. That is what happens in today’s Gospel. Jesus goes home, to Nazareth, and discovers that prophets may be honoured elsewhere, but not at home. The folks in Nazareth handle this challenger to their comfort by trivializing the messenger. (A recent translation of the Gospels suggests that, in our terms, the folk of Nazareth didn’t just not applaud Jesus, the booed him.)

“Where does he get all this?” – What are his credentials, did he go to university, what’s his degree? He doesn’t have any? Then, what he’s saying can’t be worth very much!
“What is this wisdom that has been given to him?” – What’s his specialty; is he qualified to speak on these matters? Does he have a graduate degree? No? Then forget him – and whatever he is saying!

“What deeds of power are being done by his hands?” – He may have done great things somewhere else, if you believe his advertising, but our problems are different, and he hasn’t solved any of them.
“Isn’t he the carpenter, the son of Mary, … ?” – He’s a common worker, so he can’t know much. He’s the kid from down the street, we’re not too sure about his family either; who was his father anyways?

When we don’t want to face the truth, we can find an amazing number of ways of not hearing the message. And when we don’t hear the message, then the prophet can achieve nothing. That was true for the folks in Nazareth, with whom Jesus could do no deeds of power. And it’s true today, even for you.

This kind of rejection might feel familiar, if you’ve ever spoken the truth prophetically, in even a minor way. You think you haven’t done that? Sure you have! “Study, or you’ll fail …” “Be careful, or you’ll get hurt …” “If you do that, you will have a problem, …” “We shouldn’t do that, it’s wrong, and if we do it then …” “Wear a mask, stay away from crowds, or …” And so on.

If you’ve said any of that sort, you might have heard things like, “Isn’t this good old Dad, or Mum, or my Facebook friend…, where did he or she get this smart, why should we listen …” and with the rejection of the prophet the prophesy is also rejected.

Prophets still come into our world and tell the truth. Prophets come disguised; few of them are old men with beards, on mountaintops. They may come as environmental activists, they may come as reforming politicians, they may come as musicians writing protest songs, they may come as young people rejecting the values of their parents. These days, a lot of them come as public health experts. And surprise, some come as preachers and church leaders! All of these may name the truth about ourselves, and when we don’t like it because it calls for us to respond and change, we still trivialize the prophet. And so environmental activists are labelled communists, visionaries, impractical, to young, anti-business. Reforming politicians lose elections. Musicians on a crusade are attacked for their life-styles, the rhythm of their music, or its loudness. Public health experts get over-ruled, second-guessed, and sometimes fired by politicians wanting reelection. And preachers and church leaders? Mostly they are ignored. When they get too noisy to be ignored, they are told to stick to religion, to stay out of politics, and are labelled as ignorant of the ways of the world; basically they are ridiculed. Sometimes, if they won’t shut up, they are simply gotten rid of; think Martin Luther King Jr., think Oscar Romero.

The truth is, none of us like the truth! Truth cuts through our deceptions and denials, and shows the motives for our actions. The truth uncovers uncomfortable facts about ourselves, our lifestyles, our society; facts we are often unwilling to face. The truth is often heard by us as judgment; judgement of us!

It is judgement, but not in the sense of condemnation! Prophecy brings us to a moment of decision. We can decide to hear the truth, accept it, change the way we live. Or, we can reject the truth. And, rejecting the truth, we will then suffer the consequences of which the prophet warns us. This is not a mean and nasty God inflicting punishment on us. Rather, in rejecting the truth and refusing to change, we make the prophesied consequences inevitable. The judgment is not condemnation, it is the logical consequence of refusing to change.

The other side of judgement is promise. God’s promise is that following God’s ways and commandments will bring us blessings. Again, this is not a Santa Claus God rewarding us for being good little boys and girls, it is the logical consequence of our actions. God created and redeemed a world in which it is possible to live in love and harmony with each other and with all of creation. When we choose to live as the people of God, the promises of God will be fulfilled, or if you like, are the logical consequences.

But all of this requires us to hear the truth and respond to it. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” Christ has brought the kingdom of God to life in our time; through Christ we can live in peace and harmony with ourselves, others, and our world. In, and discerned through Christ we can hear the prophets of today, the bearers of the truth for us, and for our time.

If we can just live like that, hearing our prophets through Christ, Jesus will not be amazed at our unbelief!

Copyright ©2021 by Gerry Mueller