Last Sunday, the last line from the reading from the Prophet Ezekiel said:
“They shall know that a prophet has been among them”
What about you, would you recognize a prophet
if one happened to come walking up your driveway?
Personally, I don’t preach much about prophets.
Prophets make me uncomfortable.
Why do they make me uncomfortable?
Because a prophet’s job description is exactly that:
to make people uncomfortable.
A prophet’s job is to get the people to shape up.
Today’s first reading has the prophet Amos
telling the high priest, Amaziah, to shape up,
to get rid of the pagan idols and to start paying attention to the poor!
His words sting.
But, before Amos stomps out of the Temple,
he adds something that doesn’t make much sense.
Before shaking the dust from his feet,
Amos says, “By the way, I ain’t no prophet!”
Well, Amos wants to make it clear that he is a man of conviction,
not a prophet-for-hire, like the boot-licking, Yes-men
who claim to be prophets
and preach whatever tickles the king’s ear.
“If you’re not a prophet,” the king asks, “then what are you?”
“I’m a shepherd and a dresser of sycamore trees,” he says.
Now, what does this mean?
And, why does Amos mention sycamore trees in particular?
One reason might be the fact that the fruit of the sycamore
is hard and tough to eat, yet it was the only food available
for those whose lives were just as hard and tough as their diet!
In other words, Amos was drawing attention to people overlooked
by the king and the clergy sequestered inside the temple
on the heights of Bethel.
(The way the USA looks to a lot of folks
south of our border.)
After Amos’ little speech, I don’t think the king had any trouble
recognizing the fact that, indeed,
“a prophet had been in their midst.”
So, what about us?
Would we recognize a prophet if you saw one?
Keep in mind, sometimes prophets
show up in places where you least expect them.
Let me give you an example.
A couple of years ago
a Hispanic man and his son were laying brick
on a wall to my church.
I walked over and introduced myself.
Long story short. I discovered that this man’s family
once owned a ranch in the Mexican state of Quanajuato.
During the persecution of the Catholic Church in the 1920’s,
his family, at the risk of their lives and their land,
sheltered two Franciscan priests and twenty seminarians.
One day, the government soldiers came and captured one of the priests.
They tortured and killed him.
Was this bricklayer a prophet?
For me, yes. Absolutely.
You see, sometimes I get caught up in my own little world.
I get my feelings hurt. I nurse disappointments.
I hold grudges. I want life to go my way
and complain when it doesn’t.
So, God sent a bricklayer to deliver me a message
and the message, you might say, hit me like a brick.
Because, as a priest, my life is comfortable, predictable and safe.
And this conversation working man
made me wonder if I would be willing
to give my life for the faith like that priest down in Mexico.
This prophet was not a religious professional,
just a man who, like Amos,
worked with his hands at an honest job.
And his own people had risked their lives for the sake of Christ;
his own family had witnessed a martyr give his life
out of love for the Church.
You never know who you’re talking to.
You never know who you’re going to meet.
You never know when God is going to send a prophet,
that is to say, a shepherd, a tree-trimmer, or some bricklayer,
to speak a word that stops you in your tracks!