John 7: 40-53
Brandon Marshall is a highly respected professional football player. He is a wide receiver, and has accrued All-Pro honors for several years. He receives a handsome salary commensurate with his talents. The past several seasons he has played for the Chicago Bears. But recently the Bears traded him to the New York Jets. They no longer wanted him as a member of their organization. Why would they divest themselves of so valuable a player, especially given their need of great talent to improve upon their recent overall poor performance?
There are presumably several reasons, of which money (the salary paid him) was a likely factor. But is it the primary reason? Probably not. Marshall proved to be an outspoken commentator on matters football, and his remarks were often critical, that is, uncomplimentary, especially of the Bears organization, management and leadership. So the powers-that-be made the judgment that more good than harm would accrue from his being traded to the Jets team.
This is not the first time that a valuable asset has been given up by an organization on the score that it would be better off without than with him/her. In fact, today we hear of the same scenario operative in the lives of Jewish prophets of old: Jeremiah and Jesus. Both members of the Hebrew people, they belonged to a highly esteemed category: the prophets. Some of the most illustrious persons among the Hebrew people were prophets: spokespersons for God, who revealed God’s designs at work in the history and life of the Jews, and the way forward to improve their lives. But, as is so often the case, their prophetic words and actions on behalf of God were not always appreciated, somewhat like Brandon Marshall’s comments about the Chicago Bears’ organization.
This is what we hear today, from the assigned scriptures. They speak to us of the plight of Jeremiah, one of the two or three most esteemed prophets in Hebrew history, undergoing some grueling treatment at the hands of his fellow Jews. But he portrays himself as a trusting lamb being led to slaughter by those opposed to him and his prophetic ministry to them. Designs got underway among the Jewish leadership to rid themselves of him, with his withering criticism of them and their ways. They even wanted to obliterate all memory of him. But Jeremiah was not going to take this “lying down”. He called on God to defend him by taking vengeance on his opponents. Undoubtedly, Brandon Marshall may have much the same thing in mind the next time the Jets play the Bears.
And we hear nothing different in the readings taken today from John’s gospel, about the greatest of all prophets, and, indeed, one far superior to any prophet: Jesus the Galilean. We become witnesses to a heated discussion among the Jews, apparently not so much the leadership, but the ordinary population at large, that is, those who had opportunity to hear the words of Jesus, and perhaps witness some of His miracles. They heard Him explain the meaning of the scriptures, and the designs God had in mind for the Jewish people. He spoke to them of God’s program, centering on love of His Father, and of one another. They heard Him criticize Jewish leadership much as Jeremiah had done before Him. He was fearlessly outspoken. And so He was the center of attention, much to the discontent of the chief priests and the Pharisees. And so the issue became His credentials: was He THE prophet, perhaps the MESSIAH, long awaited throughout Jewish history? Various answers flew back and forth on this issue. Even the soldiers sent by the Jewish leadership to arrest Him, returned empty-handed, stunned by His eloquence. And the secretive and timid Nicodemus, of whom we heard early on in Jesus’ public ministry, and himself a Pharisee, took issue with this inordinate haste to condemn Him.
So, critics often have a hard time of it. Of course, many of them give as good as they get. Nonetheless, today’s scriptures speak to us forcefully of the role that convictions and commitments should play in our lives. While we need not be brash or combative about them, we must abide by them, and not allow opposition or criticism to deter us. All of us are called to be prophets of God’s ways in our lives, if not in word, at least in our conduct.
Fr. Sebastian MacDonald, C.P. is a member of the Passionist formation community at Catholic Theological Union, Chicago.