Daily Reflection
February 23rd, 2000
John Fitzgibbons, S.J.
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Saint Polycarp, bishop and martyr - Memorial 
James 4:13-17
Psalms 49:2-3, 6-11
Mark 9:38-40

Prophets have always had a dual role.  On the one hand, they articulate the promise of God, the real presence of God in our midst, even as we wait for the totality or fulfillment of that presence.  There's an "already/not yet" quality to this role because true prophets help us in our real-life situations.  They help us see that God is already in our midst and they remind us that there is more for us.  God and God's love for us is more than we can see at the moment.  On the other hand, prophets have the unenviable role of unmasking the idols of the present; they always challenge our comfort zones, our ease with saying, "That's just the way things are right now."  This role deconstructs our fears by naming them, exploring them -- not denying them -- and, finally, by pointing out the love of God which is the only thing that can cast out our fears.

We usually like prophets when they say comforting things, things we want to hear.  They are especially welcome if they heap coals on the heads of our enemies, those "bad guys," over there.  But when prophets get too close to home, over here, things get difficult.

The Letter of James issues a warning to the rich and self-confident in today's reading (James 4:13-17).  None of us like to hear what James says because all of us feel the need to plan our lives, make a good living, and provide for the future.  The Dow Jones index says we're doing just fine!  My financial planner says, "Steady as she goes!  Keep watching the markets."  But James reminds us, "You never know what will happen to you tomorrow...The most you should say is:  'If it is the Lord's will, we shall be alive to do this or that.'  But how proud and sure of yourselves you are now!  Pride of this kind is always wicked.  Everyone who knows what is the right thing to do and does not do it commits a sin." 

For James, it's about attitude and acting out of that attitude.  Most priests and ministers of the Gospel know better than to try to get away with such a challenge.  We would be challenging ourselves, of course.  And then there's the danger that we might look like prophets and be rejected or, worse, hypocrites.

So, where do we see, as the Gospel of Mark states today (9:38-40), the prophets who work miracles in God's name?  They are, as Jesus indicates to John, all around us.  They may not always be Catholic; they may be Protestant, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, or even no religion at all.  But we know these prophets because they speak truth and bear the real presence of God.  They do the right thing and they work miracles of healing.  As Jesus says in today's gospel reading, "Anyone who is not against us is for us."

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