Embrace the Leper and the Wolf–Be a Prophet

Light of Hope Crowns a Dreary Rainy Mountain Day

Today’s readings speak about plots. The leaders plot against Jeremiah because he was challenging the fact that the leaders and people, ignoring signs of catastrophe, held fast to the belief that God would abide with them no matter what they did or failed to do. Eugene Peterson in The Message introduces what Jeremiah is doing. He likens Jeremiah to an officer on the Titanic who sees the sonar readings. He keeps warning the captain ab0ut icebergs but the captain ignores him. Nice analogy!
The Galilean has come to Jerusalem and the Judeans. His message, like that of Jeremiah, is falling on deaf ears and the leaders are trying to find out how to take him out. Jesus knows full well (not because he is God disguised in flesh and therefore all-knowing but because he is a man fully ware of the deadly consequences for his words and actions.) that the oppressors have a cross waiting for him. [Again, we need to be mindful that, in John, the role of the Judeans (Jews) is much larger than it was historically because it is polemic toward the Judeans (Jews) after the Jesus Movement split from Judaism.]
There are no coincidences with God. The story I read in the National Catholic Reporter this morning bears this out. It is an article on the respect and veneration people, especially people who have emigrated from El Salvador to the US, have for Archbishop Oscar Romero. The parents have told the story to their children. Romero, once a typical bourgeois churchman, had a dramatic conversion of heart when a priest friend was assassinated by coyotes who were ripping off the poor rural farmers. Romero, like Jeremiah and Jesus, began to speak out against the oppression he saw. His former cocktail party friends were no longer his friends. In fact, he was no longer welcome at the gatherings of the rich and famous in El Salvador. They too plotted to take him out. A gunman assassinated Romero while he was celebrating Eucharist at a hospital chapel. When Romero was gunned down, Pope John Paul II was preparing to send him a letter removing him as archbishop because he had disturbed the comfortable fat cats in El Salvador.
True prophets, true proclaimers of truth and justice, know the consequences for their actions but they keep on keeping on. Jeremiah prayed for God’s protection and deliverance. Jesus prayed that the cup would be lifted from him but also proclaimed that the Living One would raise him up on the third day. Romero, knowing he would be assassinated, said that he would arise in the Salvadoran people. And this is really what resurrection is all about. Jesus arose in the living memory of the early faith communities and Romero has arisen in the memory of the Salvadoran people.
It is spring. Trees are blooming. Birds are chirping with new vigor. The tulips will arise from the hidden bulbs. Cherry blossoms are springing into life in Washington. Nature always comes to life.
Dark things are also arising in Washington and around the nation. We are in crisis just as Israel was in Jeremiah’s time. Where are the prophets that can guide us and bring meaning to the pending disaster? Who will arise to bring new life—resurrection hope—to every American?Who will cry out against the immorality of a budget that gives even more to those who already have more than they need while taking food, shelter and medical care away from those who less than what they need to survive. Who will don sackcloth and ashes and parade through the halls of the Capitol decrying increased funding for an already bloated military budget? Who will proclaim from the rooftops and tell the American people that their only true security comes from following the Gospel of Jesus—love your enemies, for those who persecute you (Pray even for misguided Muslims? YES!), feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, shelter the homeless, care for the sick (Provide health care for every American? YES!), visit the prisoners and set them free, and proclaim a year of jubilee debt reduction and wealth re-distribution?
Merton, from his monastic cell, spoke out against war, racism and nuclear weapons and was silenced by his Trappist superiors. Daniel and Phillip Berrigan spoke out in prophetic action against an immoral war in Vietnam and were hunted down like common criminals. [Remember that Jesus died the death of a common criminal on the cross.] John Dear and Jeff Dietrich from the Los Angeles Catholic Worker, continue to witness against war and nuclear weapons; they are on a government watch list and are classified as domestic terrorists. Joan Chittister is a constant witness against the inhumane and unjust treatment of women and gays and lesbians in the patriarchal Catholic church. Roy Bourgeoise delivered the homily at the ordination of a woman priest and was excommunicated by the Vatican. Bishop Bridget Mary Meehan ordained women to the Catholic priesthood in Sarasota and she and all who attended were notified of their excommunication by Bishop Potentate Frank Dewane’s comments in the local secular newspaper (How’s that for using modern media?)
Jeremiah Wright spoke up. Many of us did not like the message and immediately marginalized him. (http://www.theatlantic.com/daily-dish/archive/2008/03/the-wright-post-9-11-sermon/218678/)
We can talk about all these prophets but the real question is, “When will I look in my heart and ask the Living One for the grace and the courage to stand up tall and speak out even in church and neighborhood groups that are comfortable. It is time we all took personal responsibility for comforting the oppressed and disturbing the comfortable. It begins with me and becomes us.
We need to prepare ourselves for prophetic speech and action. Camus, Merton and Rohr have some valuable advice for us:
We all carry within us our places of exile, our crimes and our ravages. But our task is not to unleash them on the world; it is to fight them in ourselves and in others. (Albert Camus, The Rebel)    
Isn’t it wonderful news, brothers and sisters, that we come to God not by our perfection, but by our imperfection? That gives all of us an equal chance, and utterly levels the human playing field. No pretending is necessary.
Deep within each of us lives both a leper and a wolf; in Franciscan imagery, Francis embraced the leper on the road, and called it his conversion; and Francis tamed the wolf in Gubbio in his later years. The stories did happen historically, but first of all they were revealed in his soul.
It is on the inside of us that lepers and wolves first live. If we haven’t been able to kiss many lepers, if we haven’t been able to tame many wolves, it’s probably because we haven’t first of all made friends with our own leprosy and the ferocious wolf within all of us. It is always there in some form, waiting to be tamed and forgiven. (From Radical Grace: Daily Meditations, p. 276, day 287)
Instead of hating the people you think are war-makers, hate the appetites and disorder in your own soul, which are the causes of war. If you love peace, then hate injustice, hate tyranny, hate greed – but hate these things in yourself, not in another. (Thomas Merton)
Go deep within, stay there for a while—embrace the leper and the wolf, identify the evil lurking there— and then come out proclaiming Gospel truth. Live it in your heart. Shout it from the rooftops. Make it go viral on the internet.

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