Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
What is a prophet? In the Old Testament, we read about many prophets whose primary role is to make the word of God known to the people of Israel. They are sent by God to reveal His plan, or consulted by the Israelite people so that they can understand what ought to be done. Most often, we see the prophets calling Israel back to the covenant that God made with Moses on Mt. Sinai, a covenant of fidelity to the commandments. The prophet must challenge idolatry, injustice, tell the truth even when the powers that be are opposed. In short, the prophet is a voice calling people to conversion. To be a prophet in the Old Testament was no easy task: some prophets, we read, were mocked, imprisoned, and exiled. Jewish tradition tells us that some were even killed because they held fast to the truth God had sent them to reveal.
The parable in Matthew’s Gospel that we read today reminds us of these great figures of the Old Testament. God has consistently sent messengers to His people, who have consistently rejected them. Last of all, God sends His Son. The tenants in the parable seized the son, beat, and killed him. Just so Jesus would go to the Cross, and lifted up on that tree would call all people to fidelity to the new and eternal covenant. Jesus is far more than a prophet, but it is helpful for us to focus on the prophetic nature of his call and how well we respond today.
If prophets are always sent to call God’s people to fidelity to the covenant, we might consider our own fidelity. How well do I observe the ten commandments, the laws at the foundation of the covenant? Am I open to the truth that transcends my limited view, or do I push back on the prophets who call me to justice and truth and away from sin, injustice, and idolatry? In our day, the very nature of what it means to be a prophet is often misunderstood. It is popular to think of prophets as revolutionaries. Indeed, there are many even in the Church who think that having a “prophetic voice” means contradicting the Commandments. A truly prophetic voice, though, always calls us back to walking in the ways that God has revealed. Real prophecy never speaks against the law of God, but rather challenges us to live it out more fully. If a prophet is a rebel, it is a rebellion against the shackles of sin and the cruel reign of a world that is forgetful of God’s love.
Just recently, a truly prophetic voice was raised, though many may not have heard it. The Pontifical Council for the Protection of Minors (https://www.tutelaminorum.org/) issued a call to action addressed to the new cardinals and to the general assembly of the Synod of Bishops. I encourage you to read it in full at the website above. The evil of sexual abuse is, sadly, a reality that exists even within the Church. When we speak of a “sex abuse scandal” we are using the word “scandal” in its proper sense: an action that is so morally horrifying that it causes public outrage and alienation. Sexual abuse is always wrong and must be named as such. While great strides have been made in the life of the Church, especially since the American abuse scandal exploded in 2002, there is still work to be done. Recent years have reminded us that this evil is still present, that its victims are of all ages and walks of life, and that those who ought to confront it have often failed. The Pontifical Council for the Protection of Minors has done a great service to the Church by placing it, very publicly, on the table as a matter of great importance for the Church.
How will we respond to the true prophets of our own day? Will we heed the call to repentance, to renewal, to fidelity to the law of God? Or will we listen to the false prophets whose voices are so amplified in our world and in our Church, promoting false mercy for some while refusing to act with justice for the most vulnerable? We are the tenants. The Son is approaching. May we have the grace to respond to His voice and to live authentically in the peace of the new and eternal covenant.