How do we find out what God wants us to do?
Christians answer that question in two basic ways.
Those denominations that, through the
centuries, have developed a rigid authority structure will fall back on that
structure to surface God's will for them: "The person whom God has
put in charge will tell me what God wants me to do."
Other denominations fall back on Scripture.
They continually search their sacred writings, looking for God's will in
His word: "I do it because the Bible tells me to do it."
Actually, the Bible itself offers a different
way to discover what God wants us to do. In both the Hebrew and Christian
Scrip-tures, we accomplish this by first surfacing, then listening to the
prophets in our midst.
Our biblical writers presume these
"consciences of the people" are essential in uncovering the path
God wishes us to travel. For instance, at the beginning of chapter 14 of I
Corinthians, Paul tells his community, "Pursue love, but strive eagerly
for the spiritual gifts, above all that you may prophesy....The one who
prophesies speaks to human beings for their building up, encouragement and
Hearing the first reading (Jer 20: 10-13), it's
easy to understand why we'd rather fall back on Scripture or an authority
structure to find out God's will. As one scholar always reminded us,
"prophets tell us the future implication of our present actions."
Because we prefer to ignore those painful implications, we attack the
Jeremiah complains to Yahweh, "I hear the
whispering of many: terror on every side? Denounce? Let us denounce him! All
those who were my friends are on the watch for any misstep of mine. 'Perhaps
he will be trapped; then we can prevail and take our vengeance on him.'"
Matthew's Jesus tells us one reason why
prophets are so hated (Mt 10: 26-33). "Nothing is concealed," He
states, "that will not be revealed, no secret that will not be known.
What I say to you in the darkness, speak in the light; what you hear
whispered, proclaim on the housetops."
Prophets expose what we'd rather not have
exposed. They bring to light what can only exist successfully in darkness.
No one enjoys such exposure, not even prophets.
We know from the second reading (Rom 5: 12-15)
that, because of sin's pervasiveness, we'll always have to deal with
concealment. Yet, Paul's convinced that the good with which God gifted us
through Jesus is infinitely more powerful than the evil which Adam brought
us: "For if by that one person's transgression the many died, how
much more did the grace of God and gracious gift of the one person Jesus
Christ overflow for the many."
To surface good and expose evil will always
cost prophets big-time. That's why we should return to the Gospel and
listen carefully to Jesus' supportive words: "Fear no one....Do not
be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather, be
afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna. Are not two
sparrows sold for a small coin?...Do not be afraid, you are worth more than
Jesus can't be more emphatic or more
consoling at the same time. Only fear stops us from being the people He
wishes us to be, from exposing the evil which stops us from discovering the
worth, that the historical Jesus was convinced all of us possess.
In contrast to Jeremiah's experience, Jesus
expects us to support the prophets among us, helping them overcome the fear
which makes them hesitate to prophesy. According to our sacred authors, we
can't become God's people without ministry.