Long ago, there lived an English priest named George Herbert, who was also a poet and amateur musician. On his way to a music session with some friends, he once came across a man whose horse had collapsed under the weight of its load. Both horse and owner were in great distress.
Without a moments’ hesitation, he stopped and emerged from his vehicle, took off his clerical robes and rolled up his sleeves. First he helped the owner unload the horse, getting it standing on its feet and then reload the animal systematically so that the weight would be evenly and reliably stacked.
Then, to the owner’s delighted surprise, he gave him some money to refresh himself and his horse. Finally, the priest got back into his vehicle and drove on to meet his friends.
Of course, when he arrived late for the music session, his hair was disheveled, his face grimy, his clothes soiled and his hands dirty. This astounded the other musicians, who had known George to be prim, proper and punctual. And when he told them the reason for his unkempt appearance and late arrival, the others frowned upon him for getting involved in such a mess with an ordinary stranger.
Unabashed and unapologetic, George Herbert answered: “The thought of what I have done will be like music to me at midnight. The omission of it would have caused discord in my conscience. For if I am bound to pray for all who are in distress, I am sure that I am bound, so far as it is in my power, to practice what I pray for. So now let’s tune our instruments.” (James Valladares in Your Words O Lord, are Spirit and They Are Life; quoted by Fr. Botelho).
The central theme of today’s readings is that we should have and show the courage of our Christian convictions in our day-to-day lives in our communities, when we face hatred and rejection because of our Christian Faith.
In both the first reading and the Gospel, Jeremiah and Jesus are presented as prophets, chosen, consecrated and sent to their brothers and sisters as emissaries of the Word of God.
The first reading tells us how God called Jeremiah as His prophet and equipped him to face opposition and rejection. In his prophetic vocation, which he lived out while encountering rejection and persecution, Jeremiah anticipated Jesus, the greatest of all prophets. Today’s Responsorial Psalm (71), expresses the feelings of one who encounters opposition but trusts deeply in God’s protection, and determines to continue his proclamations of God’s Justice and wondrous deeds in spite of the negative response.
In the second reading, we hear Paul speaking with the courage of his convictions in correcting the Corinthian Christian community where the exercise of God's gifts was causing competition, jealousy and divisiveness. He courageously presents to them a "way" which surpasses all others, namely, the way of love. He warns them that, if exercised without love, even the gifts of tongues, knowledge, Faith and generosity are useless.
Then Paul spells out for them and us the true nature of love. Today’s Gospel is a continuation of last Sunday’s Gospel, presenting his own people’s reaction to Jesus’ “Inaugural Address.”
The reading shows us how Jesus faced skepticism and criticism with prophetic courage. Along with Jeremiah, Jesus and Paul believed that they were commissioned by God to proclaim a disturbing prophetic message (Jer 1:4-5, 17-19). No matter how strong the opposition, the three had the conviction that God was with them.
There was a farmer who grew excellent quality corn. Every year he won the award for the best grown corn. One year a newspaper reporter interviewed him and learned something interesting about how he grew it. The reporter discovered that the farmer shared his seed corn with his neighbors. “How can you afford to share your best seed corn with your neighbors when they are entering corn in competition with yours each year?” the reporter asked.
“Why sir,” said the farmer, “Didn’t you know?
The wind picks up pollen from the ripening corn and swirls it from field to field. If my neighbors grow inferior corn, cross-pollination will steadily degrade the quality of my corn. If I am to grow good corn, I must help my neighbors grow good corn.”
So it is with our lives...
Those who want to live meaningfully and well must help enrich the lives of others, for the value of a life is measured by the lives it touches. And those who choose to be happy must help others find happiness, for the welfare of each is bound up with the welfare of all...
We need to find ways to talk about the faith. This is our “proclamation of Christ by word.”
As Vatican II put it, “the true apostle is on the lookout for occasions of announcing Christ by word, either to unbelievers . . . or to the faithful.” (AG 15 quoted in CCC 905).
Again, as St. Thomas put it, “To teach in order to lead others to faith is the task of every preacher and of each believer.” We are called to be a prophetic people.