Year B, 4th Sunday in Epiphany
What is the word from God? How do we know its true? By the message or the messenger? Or both? This week’s texts ask these questions in a variety of ways. Jesus is revealed in the synagogue as one who teaches with authority….as a prophetic voice. He is not the first prophet in Israel but comes in a long line of prophets who speak God’s words to the people. We hear the echoes of the Deuteronomy passage as people in the synagogue discern his prophetic voice. He backs up his words with powerful actions by casting an unclean spirit out of a man after the spirit announces dramatically who he is to the people of Capernaum.
We wrestle with hearing the prophetic voices of today with clarity and discernment. Does the authority lie in the message, the messenger or both? We still judge prophets by their actions as well as their words. It is hard enough for us as adults to discern the authenticity of prophets and their messages much less for our children, youth and young adults to do so. And “prophetic” voices concerning spirituality, ethical/cultural decisions about lifestyles, consumerism, climate health, and political events clamor for our attention in the media and on the internet.
What do our scriptures tell us about discerning prophetic veracity?
- The message begins in the relationship between God and the people which is intimate, respectful of both parties and yet full of reverence (“the fear of the Lord”) upon the part of the people.
- The message is consistent with the broad scope of love, judgment, wisdom, forgiveness and abundance that God has spoken to God’s people in the past.
- The message inspires and invites transformation in the lives of the people live within God’s love, judgment, wisdom, forgiveness and abundance. It is accompanied by action!
The stories we tell this week in worship or Christian formation classes regarding the lectionary texts will come from an understanding the congruence of a prophet’s character, prophetic actions and prophetic message in light of their rootedness in God’s words and deeds in history.
I have chosen two stories, one from the Buddhist tradition and one from the Sufi tradition, that speak to me of integrity and congruence in prophetic character, action and message.
In the first story, “The Monk and the Scorpion, I find that action and character are wedded to form the basis for true compassion. If I knew the monk and knew of this story I would consider him a prophet to learn from.
Once in a monastery two monks walked about doing their morning duties. As they passed a small bowl, filled with rain, they saw a scorpion was drowning in the water. One monk reached in to save the creature. As soon as his fingers touched the panicking Scorpion, it stung him and the monk dropped the Scorpion back into the water. The monk sighed, and reached back in. This time he got his grip a little firmer, but still dropped the Scorpion when he was stung. He kept reaching in, as his friend looked on in confusion. After dozens of attempts, the other monk spoke up saying “Brother, why do you keep trying to save that scorpion? It stings you every time you come near it. The monk paused before reaching in again and smiled. As another sting bit into his hand, he took a fallen leaf from the ground and pulled the scorpion out to safety. He finally said: “Because it is his nature to sting, and my nature to save. Don’t forget brother, soon either I’ll stop feeling the pain of the sting and he will be saved, or he will stop being afraid and be saved.’ Compassion cannot be stopped so easily.’
In the second story, “Leave Your Name on the Door,” we find the impact of word and deed on the character of one considered in the eyes of the world to be a “wise one.”
It seems that Mulla Nasrudin had scheduled on appointment to meet with one of the greatest philosophers of the city at 2:00 pm one afternoon at his home. Unfortunately he forgot. And he went to the coffee shop to drink coffee with his friends and tell stories.
When the philosopher arrived he knocked on the door and no one answered. He waited a bit. Knocked again. No one answered. He waited a bit more. Knocked again and no one answered. After waiting quite a long while and knocking several more times the philosopher was quite perturbed. As you might expect. He took a piece of chalk from his pocket and wrote on the door of Nasrudin’s home, “Stupid Oaf.” And then he went away in a huff.
When the Mulla returned home late in the afternoon he saw the message from the philosopher and remembered the meeting. He rushed to the wise man’s home and knocked frantically on its door so he could apologize. The philosopher opened the door. Nasrudin said, “I am so sorry. I remembered the appointment immediately when I saw your name on my door.”
(This story can be found in an expanded version at http://www.nasruddin.org/pages/stories/stupidoaf.html )